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Aug 27, 2014 12:30 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Residents Give PSEG An Earful During Public Hearing

Sep 2, 2014 4:24 PM

It was high tension and high demands at the Department of Public Service’s public hearing for PSEG’s long-range plan at East Hampton Village’s emergency services building on Tuesday night.

More than 200 East Hampton residents, along with elected local and state officials, called for PSEG to bury a 6.2-mile transmission line that runs from the village to Amagansett at a public hearing on the utility’s long-range plan on Tuesday night, August 26.

But the gathering at East Hampton Village’s emergency services building quickly evolved into a conversation about the “tall pole” project throughout the town, not just along the transmission line route.

“We’re not going to solve the tall pole problem tonight,” said Julia Bovey, the director of the State Department of Public Service, prior to the start of the hearing, held by DPS to provide an explanation of the utility’s long-range plan for supplying electricity to Long Island

But members of local nonprofits Save East Hampton and Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy (LIBFRE) were determined to try.

Donning a bright orange shirt with the words “BURY THE LINES” on it, Save East Hampton member Lynn Browne approached the lectern, fighting back tears, as she recounted a fire that once took place on her lawn due to a fallen utility pole and transmission line.

“I am here to speak specifically about safety concerns living on this route,” she said. “As you may or may not know, the above-ground route goes down narrow, wooded residential streets, past historic areas and through scenic vistas, at times carrying 33,000 volts of power, just 25 feet from people’s bedrooms.”

In January, PSEG began installing a 23/33-kV transmission line and more than 260 taller, wider utility poles throughout the village and into Amagansett as part of an “upgrade” to better ensure “reliable and redundant” energy for ratepayers in the event of a storm. The project has been at a standstill since April after East Hampton Town issued a stop-work order at the Amagansett substation, claiming the utility company did not obtain site-plan approval or a building permit from the town.

The utility company then sought a temporary restraining order, which was denied, and a permanent injunction against the town; a decision on the latter has yet to be made by the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Brooklyn.

Ms. Browne was one of dozens sporting the orange shirts as part of Save East Hampton, whose members repeatedly told the utility company that the project is an “atrocity,” a threat to health and safety, and a detriment to property values.

“Frankly, this meeting is happening a year too late,” said Jeremy Samuelson, executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, as he addressed the crowd during his turn at the lectern. At a meeting with representatives of PSEG at Town Hall in March, Mr. Samuelson had demanded that PSEG President David Daly shake his hand and agree to institute a two-day moratorium on work on the line while both sides looked at alternatives. Mr. Daly declined.

“There’s been no planning, no transparency, no community engagement, no resilience,” Mr. Samuelson said at the meeting on Tuesday night. “This is what you get … You guys got it wrong. That’s the history. The question is, are you going to be our partners in fixing this mess?”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. also took to the lectern to thank the DPS officials for facilitating the meeting before asking PSEG for some clarity on how and when they plan to implement some of the goals outlined in their long-range plan, such as energy efficiency initiatives, distribution generation, and plans for the loss of electricity during an emergency.

PSEG said it plans to invest up to $200 million of the company’s profits back into Long Island’s electric system over the course of four years, from 2015 through 2018, said Mike Voltz, director of Energy Efficiency and Renewables for PSEG Long Island. Mr. Voltz explained that the company plans to provide ratepayers with monetary incentives for installing solar panels, timed thermostats controlled by smartphones, and other energy-efficient practices as a way to lower the peak demand for electricity on the East End, specifically.

“In the plan, there’s a lot of TBD [to be determined] and I think that makes people nervous,” Mr. Thiele said. “I’m not going to get into controversy here,” he said of the transmission line subject, “but there needs to be a consistent policy enacted where there is a fair and equitable way for paying for undergrounding a utility line.”

Mr. Thiele pointed out that PSEG representatives have said the utility company would bury the transmission line in East Hampton only if ratepayers paid for it—but a similar project in Southampton in 2008 split the cost nearly down the middle between the utility company and those who would benefit most, who agreed to a special property tax.

Mr. Thiele’s comments to the board were followed by other local elected officials. East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. both told PSEG there needs to be transparency, and town and village involvement in all projects going forward, something that both said the utility company neglected to do for this project.

“We should learn from our mistakes that were made here in East Hampton over the 6.2-mile transmission line project,” said Mr. Cantwell. “LIPA prepared a 200-page environmental assessment. LIPA declared itself the lead agency, but LIPA made the determination that there would be no negative impact,” he said, to laughter from some audience members. “I call upon LIPA and PSEG for a formal, local public hearing process for any project that’s undertaken again.”

Neither Mr. Cantwell, Mayor Rickenbach, nor members from the DPS and PSEG addressed a public participation meeting for the project that was held in September 2013, also at the emergency services building, with Robert Parkinson, LIPA’s regional project manager. The meeting, at which the utility company outlined its plans to replace 250 utility poles throughout the town and the village with new poles that ranged from 45 to 55 feet, depending on their location, was poorly attended.

“We don’t want anyone to be surprised when they see poles laying on the ground,” Mayor Rickenbach said during the public meeting last fall. “The Board of Trustees is in sync to move ahead with this, but let’s put the wheels in motion to start sooner rather than later.”

Many residents claim they were not aware of the public meeting and the extent of the project was not advertised accurately.

Ms. Bovey assured residents who attended the Tuesday’s meeting that everyone’s comments would be taken into consideration by the DPS in reviewing PSEG’s plan. “Stay tuned. We’ll be working on a set of formal recommendations,” she said.

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Perhaps someone could help me with some answers?
Was Fred Thiele speaking as a State Assemblyman; a Partner in the Twomey/Latham law firm; the Independence Party chair of Southampton; or as the Village Attorney for Sag Harbor?
As he was speaking of the need for transparency, did EH Village Mayor Richenbach mention if there was ever discussion ensuring the poles didn't come down his street in the village,
Did Town Supervisor Cantwell acknowledge that he sat in on multiple meetings with ...more
By fact (25), east hampton on Aug 27, 14 3:35 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By mikebeasthampton, East Hampton on Aug 27, 14 4:50 PM
There has been quite a bit of positive feedback from burying the lines in Water Mill...
By Mr. Z (11539), North Sea on Aug 27, 14 5:24 PM
Jeremy Samuelson is an expert on everything, my friend -- EVERYTHING. That's why no one pays any attention to him. As a flunky for CCOM, why is he even commenting on the poles? It was his asinine behavior at the last meeting that doomed our fate.
By nazznazz (276), east hampton on Aug 27, 14 6:36 PM
PSEG new name same spin. We will see what they do for us?
By eastendlife (5), sag harbor on Aug 28, 14 8:38 AM
Hampton Bays Rotary, Autumn Evening by the Sea, Oakland's, HB Rotary