In the month since PSEG took over the operation of Long Island’s electric grid, they’ve already made a slew of enemies in East Hampton, where the utility company is putting in newer, taller poles for a high-voltage transmission line through a circuitous series of village back roads.
The protests began in early February, when residents of King Street, McGuirk Street, and other small back roads that wind through East Hampton Village woke to see the utility company sistering the poles on their quiet streets with newer, much taller poles around 60 feet high. Most had been unaware of the utility company’s plans, which were announced at a sparsely attended meeting in East Hampton last September.
PSEG cited the need for more power further east in their plan to run the new, 33 kilovolt transmission line along the meandering, six-mile route from East Hampton to Amagansett. The current transmission lines to Amagansett only carry 13 kilovolts of electricity.
On Feb. 3, the neighborhood formed a Facebook page: Save EH: Safe, Responsible Energy. By Feb.4, a crowd gathered at East Hampton Village Hall, protesting outside and pleading with the village to force PSEG to stop the work and put the lines underground or run them alongside the Long Island Rail Road tracks that run from the village to Amagansett. On Feb. 6, while holding a community meeting of their own, they heard the East Hampton Town Board was holding a public session down on Pantigo Road, and headed down to see if they could get the ear of Town Hall.
One of the group’s leaders, Helene Forst, spoke passionately before the town board about health risks ranging from cancer to early onset of dementia to headaches and fatigue reported by people who live near high tension wires.
Ms. Forst said she had chaired East Hampton’s cancer committee when a cancer cluster was discovered among East Hampton high school students, and she was concerned about preventing future illness.
“These lines are running less than 25 feet from children’s bedrooms,” she said. “They should not be running down tiny little streets where children play…. We get that they need these upgrades. We just want them to be done safely and responsibly.”
Ms. Forst added that the trees on King Street had been butchered to make way for the project and she was disappointed with Governor Andrew Cuomo for allowing a new private utility company to run roughshod over citizens.
“He brought in a company that is bulldozing its way through our town,” she said. “Those poles are almost done. You can see them going down almost every road.”
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he’s been discussing the matter with Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach and, “when we define what the legal issues are, the town board can entertain whether or not there’s a direct role for the Town of East Hampton.”
“Those discussions are ongoing,” he said.
Michael Brown, an architect who lives along the route, said he doesn’t understand why PSEG doesn’t have to follow the same rules as builders and architects.
“It is criminal in my mind to put high tension wires like that through a residential neighborhood,” he said, adding that it would be easier and a shorter distance to put the lines along the railroad tracks.
“PSEG is coming in with no rules at all,” he said. “They have 60-foot poles that can fall and hit each other. They put so many so close to each other.”
Terry Rauch of McGuirk Street said the lines would be just outside her child’s bedroom. She said she wished she had the financial backing of someone like the crusading attorney Erin Brockovich.
“We’re trying not to get emotional,” she said. “We’re looking for help and assistance.”
Jeff Williams of Sherill Road learned about the new poles on Feb. 3, and he immediately became involved in the protest. He said PSEG is also damaging trees on his street.
“I found it shocking that we would lose that vista,” he said. “I’m hearing stories of folks I just met about the height and the types of voltage that goes through there…. I’m just concerned. I think more and more people are getting concerned.”
Former Town Councilwoman Debra Foster reminded the current board that East Hampton is a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance, and its vistas are protected by the state.
“Anyone invested in putting poles above ground right now is crazy,” she said.
About half a decade ago, residents of Southampton Town successfully pushed LIPA to bury transmission lines along Scuttle Hole Road en route to the Bridgehampton substation, but they agreed to pay for the exponentially greater cost of burying the lines themselves through a tax assessment. PSEG has given no indication of whether they would consider burying the lines.
“We’re all just in disbelief about what has happened to our town this quickly,” said Jack Forst, who added that PSEG representatives he’s spoken to have told him that in New Jersey the utility company just does what they want to do without asking for permission.
PSEG representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.