As workers from PSEG finish putting up a series of 60-foot tall transmission line poles through the residential backroads of East Hampton en route to Amagansett, a growing effort is afoot in East Hampton to push Governor Andrew Cuomo to do something to stop the New Jersey utility company from completing the project.
After East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell sent a letter to the governor’s office early last week calling the project a “travesty” and asking Mr. Cuomo to look into stopping it, he announced at a Feb. 20 town board meeting that the governor’s office has called him with an assurance they are looking into the matter.
“They were calling to acknowledge they were taking this seriously and researching and looking into this,” said Mr. Cantwell. “I’m not sure what that means or where that will go but it’s a good first step that the governor’s office has acknowledged they will look at it.”
Mr. Cantwell said both State Senator Kenneth LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred Thiele are looking into what can be done to stop the transmission lines and the governor’s office told him they’d received numerous letters from the public.
Mr. Cuomo’s office announced last Friday that $1.4 billion in federal Superstorm Sandy aid is being made available to Long Island to repair and strengthen its electric infrastructure, and is looking into whether some of that money can be put toward addressing the issues with the East Hampton transmission line.
East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach and the East Hampton Environmental Coalition have both also sent letters to the governor asking for help, and the group Save EH: Safe, Responsible Energy is urging residents to call and write to the governor and sign their change.org petition asking for a halt to the transmission line.
“Certainly, he’s hearing your voices,” Mr. Cantwell said of the governor to a handful of attendees at the meeting whose houses are along the route.
Many in attendance were happy to hear the news, but concerned that PSEG has already nearly finished installing the poles.
“That letter was really good,” said John Geehreng of McGuirk Street. “You’re in a big fight. I hope you guys stay strong and realize this is going to be a long battle. They have deep pockets….These guys are like silent bulldozers.”
Former Town Councilwoman Debra Foster said she’d spoken with Town Highway Superintendent Stephen Lynch, who told her he’d been in a meeting late last September when former Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley and LIPA representatives, after which he was told to sign a road opening permit allowing LIPA, and now PSEG, to do the work.
She said LIPA had submitted a thick environmental report that stated “there will be no scenic impact to East Hampton” but also said “beauty is not an issue here.”
“This is the ugliest, stupidest, most intrusive project that has ever marked this town since 1648,” she said. “I haven’t spent 40 years to see this sliced through the heart of this community.”
“This is a David and Goliath undertaking,” she added. “LIPA has subcontracted out to this New Jersey utility. The only person, in my opinion, that can stop this is the governor.”
Lynne Brown of McGuirk Street said she didn’t understand several flaws in PSEG’s logic. She said she’d heard the poles were a necessary upgrade that would withstand winds of up to 130 miles per hour, but that PSEG had said they had decided not to route the poles along the railroad tracks, even though that direct route would be only four miles instead of the six miles of the current route, because they could fall on each other and cause a regionwide power outage.
She said it sounded to her like PSEG would rather the poles fell on children in her neighborhood than that they fell and caused a power outage.
“It’s a travesty that we the citizens have to do the research and come up with reasons why this is happening,” she said. “We have not slept in three weeks. It is an unbelievable thing that’s happening. We are not going to stop. No way.”
Questions on CPF purchases
Also at East Hampton’s Feb. 20 meeting were several public hearings on land acquisitions through the Community Preservation Fund program.
The board approved the purchase of 8 acres of woodland on Town Line Road in the Wainscott Woods for $885,000 and 3.9 acres on Middle Line Highway for $750,000.
They also unanimously approved the purchase of development rights on 4.4 acres of farmland, owned by Jane Weigley on Beach Lane in Wainscott, for $7 million. Half of the cost would be paid for through the town’s CPF coffers and half by the Peconic Land Trust, which is raising private funds for their share of the purchase, said town CPF administrator Scott Wilson, who said the purchase price did reflect the fair market value of the land.
Springs resident David Buda questioned the wisdom of paying $7 million for the development rights on 4.4 acres, when development rights were purchased for about the same price on the neighboring 20-acre Babinski Farm about a decade ago.
“I’m not sure real estate values for farmland development rights have skyrocketed fivefold” in that time, he said.
The board held off voting on the $2.7 million purchase of 16.5 acres on Neck Path in Springs because the original notice did not mention there’s a house on the property, said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who said the public hearing will be held open for written comment for 10 days before the vote.
Mr. Buda said the house on the property has five bedrooms and a swimming pool and is “certainly not a teardown.”
He added that the owners of the property had been to the planning board to subdivide their property into three building lots and an 8 acre reserve, which would have provided for preserved land where the town could have hiking trails while still keeping the property on the tax rolls.
“That would have the same ecological benefits as if we acquired property for $2.7 million with this white elephant of a house in the middle of it,” he said.
Solar project RFPs and Committee Members Announced at Airport
Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, who is the new town board liaison for the East Hampton Airport, has been putting together a committee of stakeholders in the future of the airport, including two subcommittees comprised of people concerned about noise abatement and of the aviation community.
The subcommittee for noise abatement advocates includes representatives from the former Airport Noise Abatement Advisory Committee, the Quiet Skies Coalition, Northwest Alliance, the Village Preservation Society, and the Committee to Stop Airport Expansion. Members include Kathy Cunningham, Frank Dalene, Charles Ehren, David Gruber, Tom MacNiven, Jim Matthews, Pat Trunzo, Peter Wolf, Dan Voorhees, Bob Malafronte and Barry Holden from Southampton Town, airport manager Jim Brundige and Ms. Burke-Gonzalez.
The sub-committee for the aviation community includes Bonnie Bistrian, Gerard Boleis, Rod Davidson, Henk Houtenbos, Ken Lee, Elliott Meisel, Gene Oshrin, Ryan Pilla, Bruno Schreck, John Shea, Cindy Tuma and Tom Twomey.
East Hampton is also seeking proposals for 280 megawatts of solar generation at the airport, for use solely at the airport. Bid specifications are available at the town’s purchasing department office and applications are due back by March 10. More information is online here.