By Erica Thompson
UPDATE: Monday, Mar 10, 2014 4:08 PM
PSEG Long Island has agreed to bury the high-voltage transmission line on McGuirk Street and neighboring roads if East Hampton Town officials can come up with the funding to bury the line over the next 16 months, PSEG Director of Communications Jeffrey Weir said on Monday morning.
In the meantime, the utility company will continue its current overhead project of installing 260-plus utility poles and a 33KV transmission line from East Hampton to Amagansett, according to Mr. Weir.
The agreement stems from a closed-door meeting between the utility company, members of Save East Hampton, a citizen activist group, and local and state elected officials on Friday afternoon, to discuss the option of burying the transmission line and determining how the project could be funded.
“During the meeting, we came up with the framework to help the town, the village, and the residents, to come up with the funding,” said Mr. Weir. “We’ll assist them in securing that [funding] in any way possible, but we’re not going to take on any additional costs to Long Island ratepayers outside of East Hampton.”
The private meeting was preceded by a public, round-table discussion between representatives of PSEG, Save East Hampton, Mr. Cantwell and Mr. Rickenbach on Wednesday afternoon at Town Hall, where the groups agreed to write up a document to outline the wants and needs of all parties going forward.
To bury the transmission line would cost about $30 million, Mr. Weir had said previously, plus the cost of taking down or modifying the poles. The remedy to the poles, he added, would be to either cut the tops off, making them shorter, or take them down entirely and replace them with new, smaller poles. All of those costs would have to be paid for by grants or be absorbed by the residents in East Hampton Town.
Mr. Weir also stressed that “going underground” would not mean McGuirk or other streets would be entirely without utility poles.
“We would bury just the transmission line,” he said. “The utility poles host more than just our electrical wires and it would take an immense amount of coordination to get all of those entities to agree.”
PSEG and the town are looking into using some of the $1.4 billion given to New York State by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to upgrade Long Island’s electrical grid. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, the project in East Hampton did not qualify for the funding, said PSEG Long Island President and COO David Daily.
PSEG plans to issue a public letter of promise sometime early this week, according to a statement from Save East Hampton, and the groups plan to meet again at the end of March.
UPDATE: Friday, 2 p.m.
The East Hampton Town Board approved a resolution demanding that PSEG bury the proposed transmission line between the East Hampton and Amagansett substations during Thursday night’s Town Board meeting.
The resolution also “respectfully requests” Governor Cuomo’s intervention on the project, as well as his financial assistance to bury the lines.
“The supervisor sent a letter, which was great,” said Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, referring to a letter Supervisor Larry Cantwell sent to Governor Cuomo in February, asking for his assistance in halting the project. “But the resolution is to show that it isn’t just the head of the town that’s asking for this, but it’s the entire board.”
PSEG said in a meeting on Wednesday that the project in East Hampton did not qualify for $1.4 billion in federal funding allocated to improve Long Island’s electrical grid, but Ms. Overby feels the issue wasn’t pushed hard enough.
“We didn’t specify in the resolution where the money should come from,” said Ms. Overby, “but PSEG keeps talking about redundancy and resilience to protect us from power outages during storms. Those two things seem like FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) causes and those dots should be connected. This looks like a FEMA project.”
Mr. Cantwell will meet with representatives from PSEG and Save East Hampton, the group of residents affected by the utility pole project, on Friday afternoon to draft a document outlining the town and residents’ concerns and requests in an effort to compromise on a solution for the project.
Power supplier PSEG on Wednesday agreed to work with the Town of East Hampton to examine alternative options for a 6-mile long, high voltage utility pole and transmission line project.
More than 100 East Hampton residents packed into Town Hall on Wednesday for a meeting between the utility company, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach, and members of the citizen activist group Save East Hampton to discuss the controversial project.
The project, according to PSEG, is part of the utility’s effort to improve the electrical system on Long Island in the event of a major storm. The utility is installing taller, wider utility poles and plans to add a third transmission line between the East Hampton and Amagansett substation in order to meet the increased electrical demand during the summer.
“I just want it to be clear to everyone why we’re here,” said Michael Brown, a member of Save East Hampton. “We’re all very concerned, deeply concerned, about what’s going on, and for the safety and welfare of everyone that’s living underneath these lines.”
The new poles, nearing 65-feet-tall, are built to withstand 130-mph winds, but are located, in some cases, within 20 feet of bedroom windows.
PSEG Long Island President and CEO David Daly said his company would explore the option of burying the lines completely, in addition to looking at a partial burial or an alternative route.
Residents have repeatedly suggested running the lines along the railroad tracks from East Hampton to Amagansett—2 miles shorter than the 6.2-mile route in place—but Mr. Daly said the option was explored and denied for technical reasons.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” said Mr. Daly, who insisted all other options had been thoroughly looked at in good faith. “But we need to turn over every stone with this rail-road option, and we will.”
Despite the possibility for alternatives, PSEG officials have no intention of stopping the current project.
“Give us Thursday and Friday,” said Save East Hampton member Jeremy Samuelson, requesting Mr. Daly put a two-day halt on the project. “You’re asking for trust, give us a reason to trust you,” said Mr. Samuelson.
“Our community feels violated. A lot changes in two days. I’m going to ask you to sit for just a moment on a very simple, humble request that is moderate but very powerful,” said Mr. Samuelson, who proceeded to extend his hand to Mr. Daly, who respectfully declined.
The cost of the project, as it stands, is about $7 million for just the overhead work, PSEG project manager Bob Parkinson said during the meeting. With the work on the substations and incidentals, he added, it will cost about $16 million. To go underground would cost about $30 million, as discussed in a previous meeting, plus the cost of taking down the new poles.
“I think we can work through all of these issues,” said Mr. Daly. “One of the biggest challenges is funding. All things considered, this seemed to be the best course of action.”
One option for funding, said Mr. Daly, is the $1.4 billion in federal aid awarded to New York State to “harden” Long Island’s electrical system.
“FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” which gave the state 90 percent of the $1.4 billion, “has very strict rules and told me this [project] wouldn’t qualify, but we need to push that,” said Mr. Daly.
“Perhaps there’s other grant money from New York State and we need to pursue that,” he said.
PSEG plans to meet with East Hampton Town officials as soon as Friday, Director of Communications Jeffrey Weir said on Thursday morning.
“One of the things that needs to be reiterated is the whole process was discussed and planned in good faith, to put together the most reliable project with the consideration of the entire rate-base, as the most reliable project for those people on the South Fork,” said Mr. Weir. “It’s in critical need for Summer 2014.”