An Amagansett law firm has been hired to stop work on new utility poles and East Hampton to Amagansett transmission lines, said Wendy Geehreng, a member of the group Save East Hampton and a resident of McGuirk Street, during an East Hampton Village Board work session on Thursday.
Save East Hampton–Safe, Responsible Energy has hired Tarbet & Lester to take legal action against PSEG Long Island.
PSEG, which took over LIPA’s operations on January 1, is putting up new utility poles on McGuirk Street in East Hampton Village that will be able to withstand 130-mile-per-hour winds. It is also putting in a new 23-kilovolt transmission line connecting the East Hampton power substation to the Amagansett substation, and moving the current 13-kilovolt transmission line higher up on the pole, said Jeffery Weir, PSEG’s director of communications.
“The bottom line is that these poles are high-transmission poles, they’re dangerous, they cause childhood leukemia, heart disease ... I could go on and on,” said Helene Forst, co-chairwoman of Save East Hampton. “The poles on McGuirk Street are 25 feet from little kids’ bedrooms. What we need is an injunction to stop this until they can prove there are no health risks to us.”
Attorney Jon Tarbet of Tarbet & Lester, whose firm was hired on February 5, said he is investigating whether PSEG complied with SEQRA, the State Environmental Quality Review Act. The law requires companies to look at factors like aesthetics and public safety, two of Save East Hampton’s biggest arguments against the project, in order to legally proceed.
According to Mr. Weir, PSEG did comply with SEQRA, referencing a 243-page environmental analysis conducted by a third-party company, AKRF. After the results from the analysis came back, a “negative declaration,” meaning no potential harm was found, was issued and signed by the Long Island Power Authority on September 25. The State Historic Preservation Office also issued approval for the project on November 7, a precaution taken to “cross our ‘T’s and dot our ‘I’s,” he said.
“We’re in full compliance,” said Mr. Weir, who said the village has a copy of the SEQRA document. “After our public meeting on September 12, the village gave us the OK on the project.”
Subsequently, East Hampton Village then issued PSEG a road opening permit to begin the project on November 1. The permit also notes the new utility poles would be larger in size.
“The permit was granted in good faith,” said East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr. “Some questions were asked but everything seemed good to go forward.”
The transmission line also runs through East Hampton Town, which is currently looking into what permits were and were not granted, and if there is any course of action the town could take, said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.
“I’d think the board would support an action if there was the potential for legal success and the possibility that some of their plans were to be changed,” he said.
East Hampton Village is also looking into what, if any, legal grounds they have to ask PSEG to reroute or bury the lines, as well as working closely with Mr. Tarbet and his firm.
“Both the town and the village have been so responsive,” said Mr. Tarbet. “I know they’re researching what they can do on their end. They care about the citizens and what they want so everybody’s on the same page.”
Water Mill residents filed a similar lawsuit against LIPA in 2008, after LIPA announced plans to install a 69-kilovolt transmission line that ran from Southampton Village to a substation in Bridgehampton, through the back roads in Water Mill. Residents alleged the company did not properly issue a statement of environmental impact. The suit was eventually dropped after LIPA agreed to bury the four-mile stretch of power lines, covering the cost of burying half of the lines if Southampton Town residents east of the Shinnecock Canal agreed to pay the other half. Southampton Town projected that those affected by the change would see an average increase of $3.70 in their monthly bill over the course of 20 years, according to an article by The East Hampton Press in May 2008.
“Part of the reason Southampton was successful in doing this,” said Ms. Geehreng, “is because they didn’t demand LIPA cover the costs, and neither are we.” Ms. Geehreng said that different real estate agents have said that the lines could cause a 20-percent decrease in property values, and that she and the rest of Save East Hampton would be more than happy to cover the cost of the project.
“It’s a hot-button issue,” said Mayor Rickenbach, “and we respect each of you that have come here this morning. We’ll do our very best to work with you and the town to fix the problem.”