By Stephen J. Kotz
Bury the lines! That was the message a crowd of residents from North Haven, Sag Harbor and Noyac had for representatives of PSEG — Long Island on Friday.
As part of an effort to strengthen the power delivery system so that electricity is maintained longer during storms and can be repaired more swiftly afterward, PSEG plans this spring to replace some poles, run new electric lines and update switching equipment from Brick Kiln Road in Noyac to Long Beach Road, and then onto Ferry Road to the South Ferry terminal in North Haven.
Christopher Hahn, the director of external affairs for PSEG, said the project to reinforce some 1,000 miles of lines across Long Island, would be paid for from about $750 million in grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Administration Agency.
But the people who filled the meeting room and stood in the hallway at North Haven Village Hall were most concerned about the fate of one mile in particular, and they told PSEG they wanted the lines to be buried along Long Beach Road.
Mr. Hahn said PSEG would happily oblige with that request but said that FEMA would not allow the company to use the grant money to bury lines, so if that’s what the community wanted it would have to pay for the job itself. He added that it could cost almost 10 times as much to bury the lines rather than simply replace poles.
What he did not say — and what some officials said they did not realize was the case until the meeting was over — was that PSEG’s plan does not call for anything to be done to the poles that run along a major portion of Long Beach Road, from its intersection with Noyac Road to the west and roughly to the Bay Point community to the east.
Although PSEG officials had a map showing where the work was proposed, Jeffrey Weir a spokesman for the company, said he could not share it with reporters, citing security reasons.
“I would have liked to have known that at the beginning of the meeting,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who, along with North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander, said he was not aware that “the work is only being done on the eastern third of that stretch.”
In the long run, both agreed it may not matter. “I think we are onto a broader conversation about burying the power lines in that area, whether this is happening or not,” Mr. SchneIderman said as Mr. Sander nodded in agreement.
In fact, during his opening remarks, Mr. Sander, who organized the meeting, said when he learned PSEG would be doing work in the area, he realized “visual impact is a concern to all the residents, and we want to make sure we understood what the impact would be.”
There has been widespread interest in burying power lines, especially in areas with scenic vistas, the mayor said, pointing to a successful effort about a decade ago to bury new lines along a stretch of Scuttlehole Road in the Water Mill and Bridgehampton area.
He hearkened back to 2014 when Suffolk County installed new metal guardrails along a portion of the road over the hue and cry of residents, who argued the stark, galvanized rails spoiled the view from either side of the road. Last year, the county agreed to swap out the rails.
“We learned about that after the fact,” Mr. Sander said about the guardrail project. “This, we have the opportunity to look at before the fact.”
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said it would be possible to create a special taxing district to pay to have the lines buried.
He suggested the cost could be spread out over the entire Sag Harbor School District, while others suggested it might be possible to spread it out over the eastern portion of the town.
“PSEG is very clear,” Mr. Thiele said. “If you want this project they will do it. If you don’t want this particular project, they will take their money and go elsewhere.”
Mr. Hahn concurred, saying PSEG was “agnostic” to whether the lines are buried or hung on poles. But he said the company did not have the authority under the FEMA grant to bury them. It would cost about $650,000 per mile of work above ground, but from $4 million to $6 million if the lines were buried, he said.
Some in the audience suggested that it might not be that hard to bury lines along Long Beach Road, but Mr. Hahn and three other PSEG representatives said it would require additional design work and is not as easy as it sounds. They pointed out that buried lines would be safe from winds, but not safe from storm surges and other flooding that could potentially cause major damage. That damage, they added, could be hard to pinpoint and even harder to repair.
Other audience members were concerned the poles would be treated with pentachlorophenol, or PCP, but Mr. Hahn and his associates said the poles would be treated with copper chromium arsenate, or CCA, which he said would not leach into the soil, although Larry Penny, the former natural resources director for East Hampton Town, who lives in Noyac, said CCA had been banned for use in dock pilings and questioned its safety.
Mr. Hahn also tried to reassure people that the new poles would not be that much larger than those there now, saying they would be set deeper into the soil and only be a couple of feet taller than the existing ones, while having narrower cross arms, which hold the wires.
One audience member, Dave Johannsen, said the poles are both unsightly and can pose a danger to people who doing things like kiteboarding because they literally could get blown onto the wires and face electrocution.
“I really think you should make the effort and realize how special that beach is and go ahead and do the right thing,” he said, as he asked for the lines to be buried.