- It all came down to four miles and $10 million on Friday afternoon when Southampton Town's Chief Building Inspector issued a stop work order halting the Long Island Power Authority
) plans to begin construction on their project to install a 69 kilovolt transmission line Monday, along a nine mile route ranging from Southampton Village
to the utility company's substation in Bridgehampton, noting LIPA had no permits for the work they plan to do.
First In A Series
Meanwhile, a group of Water Mill residents all of whom live within 500 feet of the proposed over ground portion of the route, along with the Committee for a Green South Fork, filed a complaint against LIPA in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Friday morning asking the court to issue a permanent injunction halting the project unless the power company agrees to bury the transmission lines along the entire route rather than the 55/45 percent plan now on the table. The suit also seeks monetary relief from the court, citing damages to their property values in excess of $90 million.
Antonia Salm told the Town Board: "My family came here in the
1900s and I am very upset about what is happening to my
In addition, the complaint alleges LIPA's plan to install the power line above ground along the four mile stretch of road will interfere with the quiet use and enjoyment of their property, as well as create a nuisance, constitute a public hazard and potentially obstruct a hurricane evacuation route.
R. Mark Keenan, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, also noted in the complaint that LIPA failed to select the best and least disruptive route of the four possible alternatives under consideration when they opted for the route along Scuttlehole Road where construction appeared imminent in keeping with LIPA's intentions to start work by the end of the month.
The complaint also charges that LIPA proceeded in the face of overwhelming public opinion against this route and rejected the community's willingness to pay a surcharge to absorb the cost increase involved in undergrounding the lines, while raising "artificial hurdles" to avoid arriving at a solution to bury the lines along the hotly contested four mile above ground segment of the route where the power lines will be draped across super poles that will range in height from 48 and 60 tall.
According to LIPA spokesman Ed Dumas, the power company will underground the lines in the Village of Southampton then run the high powered transmission lines above ground for an estimated four mile portion of the road, before returning to ground once again as they approach the LIPA substation in Bridgehampton on the Sag Harbor Turnpike.
LIPA also plans to make improvements and upgrades to their substation in Bridgehampton but has not yet secured any town issued building permits for the project maintaining the town has no jurisdiction over their work.
Bill Marlow of Bridgehampton supported the Town's action
and called for burial of the lines.
Pre-construction efforts are already underway as evidenced by road surveying, marking flags and the on-site delivery of related construction materials including stacks of conduit pipes placed at intervals along the route.
At issue in what appears to be the end game in the long running debate between
the community and the power company is the complete burial of the lines, a project that LIPA contends will cost the power company an additional $10 million. According to LIPA, the least prohibitive option was an above ground route at $10 million, while the compromise plan to bury the lines for slightly more than half the route is costing them $20 million. A total undergrounding of the entire route would add an additional estimated $10 million, bringing the total to $30 million, a figure LIPA is not willing to absorb.
In order to recoup the $10 million shortfall between the community's preference and their own, the power company has been engaged in negotiations with the Town of Southampton in an attempt to implement a surcharge that would be reflected in what is being described as a nominal rate hike to customers in the designated zone ranging from just east of the Shinnecock Canal into parts of Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor. The surcharge, or visual benefits assessment (VBA), if adopted, would add an estimated $6.40 a month to the average residential customer's bill.
While the surcharge has been well received by the community at public hearings held to discuss the proposal, some residents and civic leaders have objected to the rate hike although an estimated 2,400 local residents have gone on record favoring the undergrounding of the lines completely.
Fearing lawsuits from customers who may object to the surcharge, LIPA would like the town to indemnify the $10 million that LIPA would have to pay out up front to install the lines underground along the entire route in the event of customer refusal to pay the surcharge.
"We cannot indemnify LIPA, it's a state power authority," Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot
has commented as negotiations began to flounder, "it's a deal breaker."
This week as LIPA announced their plans to move forward with the project by as early as next week and pre-construction work began, Kabot noted that the power company had not filed a single permit request with the town's building department. Yet, LIPA officials maintain their project does not fall within the purview of the town's regulatory powers.
"We do not need to get permits from the town," LIPA's general counsel Linda Nicolino said in response to Kabot's comments. "We are a state run power authority."
The Southampton Town Board held firm on their stance that LIPA is required to submit applications for work permits on the transmission project which as of Friday, March 28, it had failed to do.
Supervisor Kabot was not deterred by LIPA's stance, noting ample precedent and records on file in the town hall indicating that the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) LIPA's predecessor in this region did secure town permits for work. In an attempt to reassert the town's authority, the board has introduced a proposed local law requiring town issued building permits and mandatory burial or underground installation of all new electric, telephone and cable lines in township.
Residents Back Town's Position
Several speakers took to the podium at the public hearing held on Friday afternoon to express their support of the proposed law as well as to indicate their strong show of support for the town's position of authority.
Many of the speakers had been making impassioned pleas and presenting reasonable arguments in favor of the total burial of the lines for months as the public hearings have progressed. When the public comment period concluded, many local residents in the 'Bury the Lines' movement traveled by bus to the LIPA board of trustees meeting held at their headquarters in Hicksville in February. Resolutions favoring the surcharge were passed in Southampton Town as well as in the Villages of Sag Harbor, North Haven and Southampton.
"It is clear that LIPA is very arrogant in their dealings with the community," Tom Shea, a Water Mill resident said as he indicated his strong support for the law and applauded the town's actions to issue a stop work order.
"I would like to offer another word of encouragement to the town," Steve Abramson said as he discussed the Committee for a Green South Fork's legal action taken against LIPA earlier in the week. "Here is a copy of the complaint," Abramson said as he handed copies to board members. "We are also requesting a permanent injunction." Abramson noted what he described as LIPA's blatant disregard for the will of public. "It was clear when we all went to their board of trustees meeting in Hicksville that they intended to ignore us."
Conduit stacks now dot the shoulder of the roadway as LIPA prepares pre-construction work along the nine mile route from Southampton to Bridgehamtpon.
"We have lost our power out here," an impassioned Antonia Salm said. "My family came here in the 1900s and I am very upset about what is happening to my beloved Hamptons. LIPA is a service industry and they are doing us a great disservice. We object, and then they impose a surcharge on us. How dare they," she continued, as the audience rallied to her impassioned speech.
"The surcharge is a scare tactic," Salm said, before Supervisor Kabot imposed the three-minute speaking limit in effect at public hearings. "You can get another three minutes during the public comment portion of the meeting," Kabot advised,
"Okay, I'll wait," Salm said before she took the podium again during the public portion of the meeting. "I get passionate about this," Salm continued. "We have to favor progression over regression. Putting these lines on these big poles is a huge step backwards. We have to look at what is best for the community and the environment. LIPA is failing on both counts."
Then punctuating her commitment and grit in her battle to save her beloved Hamptons, Salm asserted, "Why can't we call all the networks, get some publicity, and throw ourselves under the machines. This is home to me," Salm concluded, citing three important words that the town board members heard earlier this week from another long time resident who also spoke out on this issue. "Just remember this," Salm said, "We the people." This is our home."
"Say hello to your mom for me," Councilwoman Nancy Graboski
mentioned as Salm took her seat, illustrating the essence of what still remains of the once pervasive small town atmosphere where neighbors worked things out and often made deals on a handshake.
Village Work Can Start
According to Deputy Town Attorney Murray, the town issued stop work order does not apply in the Village of Southampton, where the lines are going to be installed underground. "They could start work in the Village," Murray said. "LIPA does not have to remove any of the pre-construction work or materials that they have on site now because the stop work order does not include that."
Earlier this week, Ed Dumas, LIPA's director of communications and chief spokesperson on this issue said, "We are doing everything possible to work with the community. We want to arrive at a solution but we have to move forward with this project. We can't put $10 million at risk without indemnification."
According to LIPA the power lines must be installed before the start of the peak summer season in order to provide desperately needed increased power service to the area before demand increases dramatically rising to nearly ten times the off season requirements. "All this bickering isn't going to mean much when the area starts to experience power outages this summer," Dumas commented as the controversy progressed.