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Feb 8, 2019 1:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Montaukers Plead For Town, Neighbors To Find A Third Option For Montauk Substation

Sean De Jesus, who lives on a hill across from where PSEG has said it might build its new substation, has led the campaign to halt the utility from using the Flamingo Avenue property. MICHAEL WRIGHT
Feb 12, 2019 12:40 PM

Spurred by a grass-roots campaign to raise awareness in Montauk about PSEG-Long Island’s consideration of a hillside property for a new power substation, dozens of Montauk residents packed into an East Hampton Town Board meeting last week, pleading with its members to intervene and halt the project.

Many residents told the board on Thursday, February 7, that allowing PSEG to build a substation off Flamingo Avenue would be just as bad as allowing the electrical utility company to build on low-lying Shore Road, where the Long Island Power Authority has planned to build the next Montauk substation for decades. They asked that the Town Board use its weight to halt PSEG’s consideration of the 6 acres of land, which it has an agreement to purchase if the plans move forward.

“As for the Shore Road site, the town has put significant effort into convincing PSEG of its unsuitability,” said Sean de Jesus, a resident who lives near the Flamingo Avenue land who has led the public campaign to derail PSEG’s plans there. “Unfortunately, these efforts have resulted in two alternatives that are extremely unsuitable for Montauk.

“The placement of this infrastructure will alter the face of Montauk for years to come,” he added. “And we should not limit ourselves to choosing between two bad options.”

Tom Bogdan, who formed a citizens group called Montauk United in a wake of outrage over Montauk’s summer party scene, said that he has collected more than 2,500 signatures from Montauk residents opposed to the Flamingo Avenue plan. That, he said, should quiet claims of NIMBYism by immediate neighbors worried about property values.

“This is not a neighborhood—this is Montauk speaking to you,” he said.

Bonnie Brady, the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the concerns about the project go well beyond just the effect on the views from neighboring properties.

“We’ve got ecological sensitivity, its moorlands, Indian artifacts, in addition to the visual blight,” she said. “No one should have to have that in their backyard—no one. We deserve better. Montauk deserves better.”

Almost every speaker said that with some patience and effort from the community and officials, a new location that would be better suited could be identified.

“Fight for us,” said Anthony Testa. “This is the worst possible location. If it’s needed, so be it—we need to work together to find a better spot.”

Board members, in turn, said they would labor to ensure that any plans PSEG pursues are thoroughly vetted by the public but asked that residents not jump to conclusions about the project until accurate designs are made public.

Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc held up a photograph of a homemade billboard that appeared on a roadside in Montauk this week, plastered with a digitally generated image purporting to show what a substation on the Flamingo Avenue property would look like. The supervisor said the image was alarming—but also not accurate.

“This is not any plan that we have seen—this is a complete fabrication,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “As presented here in that photograph, that is something that no one on this Town Board would ever support. I don’t think it’s helpful to the discussion to create a lot of fear and anxiety about a basic need that Montauk has, which is a new substation.”

Later in the meeting, however, he said he was glad that whoever erected the billboard did so, crediting that person for getting such a large number of residents to air their concerns. “This is democracy,” he said.

PSEG planned to have decommissioned the existing substation on Industrial Road and built a new one about a quarter of a mile away on Shore Road this past year. But the Shore Road site, which LIPA has owned for more than 30 years, sits only a few feet above sea level and has been roundly criticized by residents and planning staff for being vulnerable to flood damage in a strong hurricane, especially in light of anticipated rising sea levels.

After lobbying by Mr. Van Scoyoc early last year, PSEG announced it would shelve the Shore Road project while it searched for other sites that would assuage the town’s concerns. Officials from the company said they examined more than a dozen possible sites and six especially closely.

The utility says it is still exploring several options, but its president, Dan Eichhorn, told LIPA officials last month that PSEG has an agreement in principle with the owners of the Flamingo Avenue land, Ralph and Rosalie Macchio, to purchase it if PSEG can secure approvals for a substation design.

PSEG has said it will hold a public forum to discuss the Flamingo property designs in detail with residents. On Thursday afternoon, a PSEG spokesman said the utility operator does not yet know when that meeting will be held but pledged that it would not be sprung on the local community with short notice.

“We don’t have a firm date yet for the public meeting, but we’ll provide at least three weeks’ notice beforehand, and we’ll post notices in local media when we have a date,” spokesman David Gaier said in a message on Thursday. “One of the reasons we’re still developing a date is that we’re internally addressing concerns that were already voiced at the LIPA board meeting, so we can respond to those as well.”

Though LIPA and PSEG have been notorious for ignoring local planning and zoning guidelines when it comes to their projects, Mr. Van Scoyoc has said that since agreeing to look at alternative sites in Montauk, the utility has also pledged to include input from town planners with regard to screening and design of the facility.

Town Planning Department staff have been conferring with PSEG officials on what will become the proposed designs, but Mr. Van Scoyoc told the Montauk residents at Thursday’s meeting that the town has not yet been presented with an actual plan and pledged that once it was, board members would hold their own public discussions of the project, in addition to PSEG’s meetings.

Some speakers on Thursday said the town should be looking at the criteria PSEG is using to evaluate potential sites, and looking for additional potential locations as well.

The Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee has formed a subcommittee of its members to examine all the sites that PSEG considered thus far.

“Our job, like ‘Mission Impossible,’ should we choose to accept it, is to find an alternative site,” said Linda Barnds, a member of the CAC. “This way we can fight them with ‘If not here, then go here.’ We have to do our homework, too.”

The town has long urged the utility to put the substation on land by the town transfer station off Montauk Highway, on one of the highest spots in the hamlet. The utility examined the site and has said it is unsuitable. Mr. Van Scoyoc said there are problems with putting power stations near landfills, and other residents surmised that the issue was an absence of nearby power lines—something they say could be easily remedied.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that former landfills do pose particular problems for substations sited nearby, but that the property is still the town’s first choice. And he reminded residents that the outrage over the Shore Road site had been similar, and that the town had worked successfully to change PSEG’s mind there and would do so again with the Flamingo Avenue site, if warranted.

“They were ready to go ahead and double down on the floodplain, and we reminded them that is not what our community wants,” he said.

Councilman David Lys said town officials have pressed the utility in recent weeks to look at other possible locations.

Mr. Bogdan challenged them to push harder for a solution that will be better for everyone.

“When you go home tonight, ask yourself, have you done the very best you could?” he said. “Montauk is worth it. You could be a Montauk hero. You could show up in Montauk and everyone will buy you a drink.”

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No to wind farms. No to the electrical grid. No to money from partying young people. No to most movie shoots and music festivals, no to Uber, and no to any kind of year round business. Nontauk. Lovely place to die fast.
By Brandon Quinn (174), Hampton Bays on Feb 8, 19 1:44 PM
We don't want Montauk to become a dump like Hampton Bays. Stay back in your sewer pit.....and keep the yuppie jerks with you! We survived without any city money for many decades and we like it that way.
By mtkfishman (59), montauk on Feb 9, 19 8:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
Whale Oil ???
By themarlinspike (162), southampton on Feb 8, 19 4:53 PM
Now try surviving without electricity.
By Funbeer (253), Southampton on Feb 9, 19 5:12 PM
Hold fast Montauk!!
By bigfresh (4046), north sea on Feb 11, 19 11:52 AM
Montauk is already well on its way towards ruin. It is not the quaint are it was 40 years ago. The rich , having run out of land to buy in Southampton and Easthampton, have invaded Montauk.
By Walt (279), Southampton on Feb 13, 19 4:21 PM
The bottom line is LIPA owns the land and have the right to put the substation on it. You environmentalist can't have your cake and eat it to. Why don't you build your fancy houses near the landfill?
By Walt (279), Southampton on Feb 13, 19 4:24 PM