Opposition Emerges Against Buried Power Lines

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Power lines along Long Beach heading to North Haven. Stephen J. Kotz photo

“Thanks for not being bashful,” Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni told about 50 members of the Noyac Civic Council on Tuesday after they boisterously voiced their hostility to a proposal to bury utility lines across Long Beach that would cost the owners of an average-priced home $26 a year in property taxes.

“I’m getting a sense of the room here,” he said after listening to one speaker after another question the plan’s practicality and expense.

“I don’t need to go any further; you’re not for this,” he said. “You know what? I think I have my answer. If the Noyac Civil Council is telling me you are not happy with it, we’re not going to do it,” he said.

Many speakers at the monthly meeting of the council in the Old Noyac Schoolhouse expressed resentment that only about 5,000 property owners in the Sag Harbor School District would be deemed beneficiaries of the proposal and taxed. Meanwhile 20,000 ratepayers in a much wider area of the town are paying through their monthly electric bills for the 2008 burial of power lines along a four-mile stretch Scuttle Hole Road.

“We are paying for a visual benefit along Scuttle Hole Road,” said Noyac Civic Council President Elana Loreto. “My nose is out of joint every time I see the fee for that on my bill. A lot of people are unhappy with that deal and we don’t want to pay another tax,” she added to a burst of applause.

Mr. Schiavoni said the decision to charge “the entire town” as a beneficiary of the Scuttle Hole Road project happened long before he was elected to the Town Board last year and that he did not know the rationale for it.

Another speaker, who said he had been in construction before retirement, said burying power lines so close to the water table would result in corrosion and outages. Another man warned that the state DEC and the “feds” would cause bureaucratic problems with the project, as they had with his bulkhead.

Under a new state law, the Southampton Town Board has the power to create an “Underground Utility District” where property owners that would benefit from a power-line burial project and pay a tax for it.

Proposed publicly in June by North Haven Village Mayor Jeff Sander and residents of nearby Cliff Drive in Bay Point, where Mr. Sander owns a property where his daughter lives, the proposal calls for burying the lines to improve the scenic vista and make an ongoing FEMA-funded storm-hardening project in the area unnecessary at Long Beach.

A written, maximum estimate for the work from PSE&G is $1.745 million. The cost would be defrayed by Cliff Road residents contributing $200,000 directly — they also would pay the tax for 20 years — and a state beautification grant of $125,000.

Osprey nesting poles would not be removed. The lines would be buried from the semi-roundabout at Noyac Road to the North Haven Village boundary, where underground culverts would make burying the lines any further prohibitively expensive.

As proposed, the taxing district would include Noyac, North Haven, Bay Point and the unincorporated parts of Sag Harbor in the Town of Southampton but not in the incorporated village. A woman at Tuesday’s meeting, noted the Foster family decades ago donated Long Beach to the people of Sag Harbor and the Town of Southampton and asked why the incorporated village would not be included in the taxing district.

Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder has told Mr. Sander she does not want the village to be included in the taxing district because it would be unfair that only part of the village — the part in the Town of Southampton — would be taxed.

“A guy in Bay Point is pushing this for his view,” said one speaker who drew applause at the Civic Council meeting. “I don’t see the logic” of the proposed taxing district boundary. “I live in Pine Neck and go to the beach there. If I go to Long Beach, I don’t see the power lines” because she’s on the beach facing the water.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”