- The grassroots movement to convince the Long Island Power Authority
) to bury power lines along a nine mile route from Southampton Village
to a substation on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike continued this week when the Southampton Town Board convened on Tuesday afternoon facing a meeting room filled with residents opposed to the power company's compromise position to partially bury the high voltage transmission.
The utility is proposing to run the line along the most scenic part of the route along prime agricultural and residential back roads unless the town can devise an acceptable plan to make up the $10 million shortfall the utility company estimates it will incur in burying the lines along the entire route.
In addition, the power company wants the town to indemnify the $10 million expenditure in the event of a lawsuit brought against LIPA by disgruntled ratepayers when they are confronted with the surcharge if it is implemented.
The surcharge plan, yet to be fully formulated by the town, will be subject to the approval of LIPA's Board of Trustees scheduled to hold their next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the power company's headquarters in Uniondale, NY.
This photographic rendering presented by LIPA depicts replacing existing wood
poles with new and improved 48 foot counterparts along the above ground portion
of the transmission route.
Local residents are already planning to attend that meeting where they will be given the opportunity to speak directly to LIPA's Board of Trustees. The LIPA board has not rendered a final decision yet committing the power company to bury the lines, regardless of the surcharge agreement the town is trying to work out with LIPA's Chief Executive Officer Kevin Law
"What Kevin Law says is one thing," Kabot noted, "what the Board of Trustees ultimately votes to approve is another." According to Kabot, two members of the town board will attend the LIPA Board of Trustees meeting later this month.
At this juncture, the debate is focused on the cost LIPA must bear to fully "Bury the Lines" and yield to the community's impassioned outcry. According to LIPA, the cost of an underground route is estimated at $30 million, while a partial route, with 55 percent of the lines installed above ground and 45 percent buried below ground, is estimated to cost $20 million, resulting in a $10 million shortfall for LIPA that must be recouped and will most likely be passed on to ratepayers in the form of a surcharge.
According to town officials, who unanimously passed a resolution at the board meeting scheduling public hearings on the surcharge later this month, LIPA estimates place the cost of recouping the $10 million shortfall at monthly charges to area ratepayers at between $3.70 a month to $4.60 a month depending on the method of rate calculation used.
LIPA spokesman Ed Dumas explained the process in an interview this week noting LIPA has not yet decided along with town officials how to proceed with the surcharge.
"The charges will depend on the method of calculation selected by the town," Dumas said. "If the town selects a usage based method which will fluctuate, we estimate the surcharge to be about $3.70 a month based on kilowatt hours. If the town decides to go with a flat rate, the monthly charge to rate payers will be about $4.60 a month, without fluctuation for 20 years until the $10 million expenditure is recouped"
LIPA wants the town to indemnify the $10 million at issue in the event of any potential legal action that may be initiated against LIPA by disgruntled ratepayers objecting to the rate hike if the surcharge is implemented and the lines are buried.
The direct route in the Village of Southampton calls for 61 foot steel poles running
from the substation off Prospect Street.
"Not everyone is going to want to pay higher bills," Dumas said, explaining LIPA's position. "It's possible we could be sued for this money. That is why we are discussing indemnification. Let's say we go along with this, and we bury the lines for a cost of $10 million, and we have incurred 100 percent of this cost, then the rate payers file a lawsuit refusing to pay the higher rates. What do we do then?
We are out the $10 million. That's why we want the town to indemnify the cost to bury all these lines," Dumas explained.
"Indemnification is a deal breaker," Kabot said in a conversation following the Feb. 12 board meeting. "As a town we cannot indemnify a state run public authority."
"What has the state got to do with this?" Dumas commented in response to Kabot's position. "Are the rate payers all over the state affected by this? No," Dumas retorted, answering his own question. "This is a local issue, local residents in this area want these lines buried, and that cost will be passed on to those ratepayers, some of whom are more directly affected by this project than others."
LIPA has proposed the installation of the additional transmission lines citing their need to meet the "growth in energy need demand and improve system reliability on the east end of Long Island."
The route now selected by LIPA will start at the power company's substation in Southampton Village where the lines will be buried along a 1.9 mile underground route ending at Seven Ponds Road in Water Mill. At that juncture, LIPA will continue the 69 kilovolt transmission line above ground on poles ranging in height from 48 feet to 60 feet for 3.8 miles along Scuttlehole Road and onto Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton, where the lines will once again return underground for the last 2.4 mile portion of the road ending at the Bridgehampton substation on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.
LIPA officials are also proposing and planning to make significant improvements and expansions to the substation, which they maintain they can undertake without town review.
LIPA officials would like to start work on the project by the middle or the end of March in order to be able to complete work before the summer peak demand period. LIPA officials maintain the area will suffer brown-outs and black-outs if increased service is not provided by these high usage summer months.
Public sentiment holds steadfast to Bury The Lines in their entirety.
The area affected by the surcharge falls into a zone starting just east of the Shinnecock canal and ranges into parts of Sag Harbor and Sagaponack, as well as Bridgehampton where the lines will end at the substation. The Shinnecock Indian Reservation will not be affected by the surcharge and is excluded from the zone.
Carl Iacone, President of the Bayview Pines Civic Association, pledged his group's support of the community's on-going efforts to "Bury the Lines" when he took to the podium this week speaking in favor of the town board's resolution to hold public hearings to consider the surcharge.
"You name it for us and we will come out for you," Iacone said, noting the issue was tied to the quality of the environment and affects the entire community as a result. "This is not a west of the canal, east of the canal issue," Iacone commented, noting a longstanding division in the geographic orientation of Southampton Town where needs and interests of each community vary greatly.
Taking Bus To LIPA Directors Meeting
Steve Abramson, of the Committee for a Green South Fork acknowledged Iacone's support. "Thank you," he said. The Committee for a Green South Fork has gathered 2,400 signatures on a petition to LIPA imploring the power company to "Bury the Lines" along the entire route. The Committee has chartered a Hampton Jitney
bus that will depart from the Rite-Aid Pharmacy parking lot in Southampton Village on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 9 a.m. to transport local residents to the LIPA Board of Trustees meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. in Uniondale.
Local artists joined in the campaign by designing posters calling LIPA to
Bury The Lines.
"We have a lot of bold faced names on the petition," Abramson said, as he addressed the town board, continuing the campaign to bury the entire transmission route. "There is also a strong political will here," Abramson added, commenting on what appears to be the nearly unanimous non-partisan participation of the area's elected representatives at the village, town, county and state level in regard to this issue.
In addition to working on the surcharge, which may or may not compel LIPA to bury the lines in response to the preference of the community, Supervisor Kabot took issue with LIPA addressing the town's role in the process.
"LIPA is subject to the Town's zoning code restrictions for all improvements planned for the Bridgehampton substation," Supervisor Kabot declared in the resolution. "The town repeatedly urged LIPA to bury 100 percent of the proposed transmission lines along the entire proposed route from Southampton to Bridgehampton."
"I'm not changing my position," Kabot said at the close of the five hour regular board meeting Tuesday as darkness fell along with the snow outdoors.
"LIPA has to get road work permits from the building department," Kabot asserted, noting the many past instances in which the town's planning and building departments were involved first with the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) and then LIPA.
A special report commissioned by the town also cited these examples. The report was submitted to LIPA before the close of the public comments period on Jan. 17, 2008. "This is all on the record," Kabot said.
The long controversy began during the summer of 2007 when LIPA's plans to provide the area with increased power to meet the existing and projected demands of the area were first unveiled.
The reaction appeared to be instantaneous and nearly unanimous in opposition to an above ground route, that according to opponents of LIPA's current plan, travels through one of the areas most scenic stretches of agricultural and residential neighborhoods and adversely affects aesthetics and property values.
Opposition to the transmission line expansion seemed to spring up instantaneously as area residents coined the slogan "Bury the Lines," which eventually became both a battle cry and mantra as LIPA officials conducted SEQRA required public hearings meetings on the proposed routes. Releasing an Environmental Impact Statement indicating the above ground transmission lines had no adverse environmental effects on the region was resoundingly ill received by area residents and every level of elected official from the town board to the State Assembly.
"We are looking at the adverse environmental and economic impacts including the negative effects on zoning, visual and scenic resources, archaeological and historic resources, public heath and safety, wetlands, community character and property values," the Southampton Town Board resolution reads.
In marked contrast to the laundry list of adverse effects of running the transmission lines above ground, Councilwoman Nancy Graboski
said, "There are no adverse effects to burying the lines."
A public hearing on the surcharge plan will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. as part of the next regularly scheduled town board meeting.
Elsewhere on the South Fork, the Sag Harbor Village Board also passed a similar resolution at their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday evening, which convened shortly after Kabot adjourned the Southampton town board.
"We are in favor of the surcharge plan," Sag Harbor Village Mayor Greg Ferraris said. "We hope the indemnification issue just goes away."