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LIPA Defies Town; Moves Forward With Tall Poles Despite Litigation

Originally Posted: May 07, 2008

Andrea Aurichio

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Residents protest with homemade sign on Seven Ponds Road in Water Mill while LIPA proceeds with installation of overhead lines. Photos by Christine Bellini

Bridgehampton - The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), in blatant defiance of a stop work order issued by the Town of Southampton, moved forward with its plans Wednesday to install 60-foot tall poles that will carry the 69 kilovolt electrical transmission line along a four-mile portion of Scuttlehole Road.

The power lines will not be buried despite the intense campaign waged by area residents to "Bury the Lines" for months. The high-powered line will be installed above-ground even as town officials remained hopeful that a midnight hour solution would present itself in spite of a breakdown in negotiations that resulted in litigation several weeks ago.

Utility poles are on site waiting for installation. The poles along the side of the road
measure 45-feet in length and have an 18-inch diameter. The 60-foot tall wooden
poles have yet to arrive on site.

"We have no deal," Edward Dumas, LIPA's vice president in charge of communications said, as he announced the power company's plans to move forward with their hybrid plan that calls for burying the power lines along 55 percent of the road, while installing the remaining 45 percent on traditional above-ground poles. None of the above-ground poles currently in place will be removed, despite the under-grounding on 55 percent of the route.

Town Litigation In Progress
LIPA is proceeding with its project, despite litigation now in progress and a town issued stop work order that the power company contends is irrelevant since they do not believe that the power company needs town approvals for the project.

The stop work order issued by the town's building department notes the power company has no road opening permits, and does not have site plan approval from the planning board. In addition, the town notes that LIPA has not complied with the town's building and zoning ordinance requirements.

LIPA officials contend they do not need town permits to proceed with the project that has been under intense public scrutiny for months and is now a matter that is being addressed by the courts where the power company appeared to score a victory when a New York State Supreme Court Judge refused to uphold a temporary restraining order (TRO) requested by the town last week when attorneys for both sides appeared in court.

"LIPA may feel empowered by that court decision," Southampton Town Attorney Daniel Adams said this week when he was informed of LIPA's decision to move forward with the above-ground portion of the project by this news organization.

"That's news to us," Adams said, indicating the town would move to uphold the validity of its stop work order. "If LIPA proceeds to install the poles and run the lines above-ground along the four-mile portion of Scuttlehole Road, the town will issue appearance tickets to LIPA, Keyspan and their subcontractors who are doing this work," Adams said.

Lineman at work at the corner of Seven Ponds Road on Wednesday morning.

"So Be It"
"So be it," LIPA spokesman Edward Dumas replied when informed of the town's position. "We do not need local approvals. While we would like to keep our municipal partners informed of our projects, we do not need their permission. We will defend ourselves in court," Dumas said.

LIPA is installing the new transmission lines underground in Southampton Village before taking the lines above-ground for a four-mile stretch of the approximately nine-mile route. The lines will be buried once again as they approach the power company's Bridgehampton station. The high-powered transmission line is being installed to provide additional power that LIPA contends is needed to satisfy the South Fork's increased energy needs. LIPA would like to have the project completed before the start of the peak tourist season when energy demands reportedly increase 10-fold to avert potential black-outs and brown-outs.

The four-mile portion of the route where the lines are going to be installed above-ground along Scuttlehole Road was the object of intense protest among local residents who objected to the disruption of the scenic vistas, and also noted, the tall poles would pose safety hazards and adversely affect their property values.

In an attempt to satisfy local residents and respond to the resounding cry from the community to "Bury the Lines," town officials and LIPA top executives tried for months to arrive at a compromise solution.

A Matter Of Trust
In the end, it was all about the money. According to LIPA officials, the cost of the hybrid project is approximately $20 million. The cost of burying the lines would add an additional expense now estimated at approximately $8 million. This figure reflects a downward revision of $2 million off the original $10 million shortfall quoted by LIPA before the project was put out for bids.

At issue, as the 45-foot wooden utility poles await installation in what LIPA describes as a one-on-one replacement along the sides of Scuttlehole Road, is exactly how this budget shortfall should be recouped.

LIPA crews began installing lines underground in Southampton Village earlier this month. The power company hopes to complete the project and upgrade service to the South Fork region before peak summer season brings increased energy demands.

Southampton Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst described the scene that took place when town officials participated in a conference call with LIPA's Chief Executive Kevin Law and his vice-president in charge of communications earlier this week when the town board went into executive session.

"It came down to an issue of trust," Throne-Holst said, "The town was willing to bear the $8 million cost if LIPA was willing to trust the town to put a special taxing district in place."

Last Offer
"On their last offer," Throne-Holst said, referring to the conference call, "LIPA was demanding the town indemnify the power company for everything. They wanted us to indemnify for non-rate payers, legal actions, failure of public hearings and failure of their own Board of Trustees in the event they refused to approve the surcharge."

Town residents indicated a willingness to pay a surcharge, later dubbed a visual benefits assessment (VBA) by LIPA that would be based on usage if the lines were buried.

The VBA, if implemented, would result in average monthly increases of less than $5 on ratepayers bill. The surcharge would be imposed in an area ranging from just east of the Shinnecock Canal to parts of Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor.

"The town is willing to pick up the tab," Throne-Holst said, "but LIPA has to trust us first. We cannot commit to an $8 million bond for 20 years without having public hearings first. Then we would have to have a referendum so we could see if the entire town supported this, rather than just a minority of residents in the area most affected by the project."

The prospect of the town and LIPA splitting the $8 million cost overrun was also put on the table.

Trailer truck loads of conduit arrived on the site earlier this month.

Throne-Holst noted she has been receiving calls from area residents as early as 7:30 a.m. in the morning Wednesday when LIPA crews began to drop off the wooden poles. Six tall poles, measuring 60-feet in height, have yet to arrive on site. The poles now lining the route measure an estimated 45-feet in length and have an 18-inch diameter. These poles will be used to replace existing poles.

"There will be six, 60-foot tall poles along the route," Dumas said. These 60-foot tall wooden poles will be installed near the railroad tracks and at road intersections as well as at transition points where the lines go under and then above-ground.

"No matter what they do, we are going to bring an Article 78 proceeding against LIPA," Throne-Holst asserted.

Contending they have done their part to reach a compromise, Dumas asserted, "I think anyone outside Southampton Town would applaud LIPA's determination and our position to stand firm. We were more than willing to make this work. This is on Southampton Town. LIPA is after all, an above-ground utility company."

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Guest (Beyond Broke) from Hampton Bays says::
And you wonder why LIPA bills are so high... every body shouldn't have to pay to bury the lines that a few do not want to see. Thanks a lot, signed Beyond Broke
May 9, 2008 12:00 am


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