Southampton Town Board Approves Cliff Drive Utility District Bond

Town Board Members Christine Scalera, left, and Julie Lofstad initially voted against establishing a utility district along Cliff Drive because they could not see how it would benefit the greater public. GREG WEHNER

The Southampton Town Board authorized a $420,000 bond to help pay for an underground utility improvement district along Long Beach Road in Noyac, with a required supermajority vote — though it was not unanimous.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and board members Tommy John Schiavoni, John Bouvier and Christine Scalera voted in favor of the bond, while board member Julie Lofstad voted against it. Ms. Scalera later said she opposes the project but still voted in favor of the bond, since she didn’t want to obstruct the larger plan approved earlier in a 3-2 vote.

The approval of the bond is a crucial step in establishing the utility district, which will comprise 18 homes on the western side of Cliff Drive in the hamlet of Noyac. The money will pay for the cost of removing existing utility poles and burying the power lines.

Even though the town is bonding for the money, to cover the upfront cost of the installation, residents in the established district will be responsible for paying back the $420,000 over time through a special tax.

“It always amazes me that the utility companies don’t pay a penny of it,” Mr. Schneiderman said before the vote. “They obviously get the benefit of these underground utilities — that they’re not going to have to repair them during the storms. It’s brand-new infrastructure that’s going in, and the residents are asked to shoulder the entire expense. It just amazes me, but people are willing to do it.”

In March, homeowners pleaded with the Town Board to allow them to remove nine utility poles and bury the utility lines between their neighborhood and Long Beach Road.
Initially, residents requested the lines be buried for aesthetics, to improve the view of Noyac Bay, but safety concerns were also cited during the public hearing in March.

North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander, who owns two homes along Cliff Drive in Noyac, said he was in favor of the Town of Southampton bonding for $420,000 to pay for the removal of utility poles and burial of lines between Long Beach Road and Cliff Drive. GREG WEHNER

North Haven Mayor Jeff Sander, who owns two of the 18 properties on Cliff Drive that would benefit from the burial of the lines, attended those early public hearings along with the meeting on Tuesday night, showing his support for the district. His concern, which he said early on, was that a power line could come down during a storm or accident and become a hazard.

When Town Board members initially voted to allow for the establishment of the district, it was not unanimous, either — Mr. Schneiderman, Mr. Bouvier and Mr. Schiavoni voted for it and Ms. Scalera and Ms. Lofstad voted against it, questioning how it benefited the public interest.

Despite voting in favor of the bond, Ms. Scalera said on Wednesday morning that she still does not support the creation of the district.

She reasoned in saying she did not believe the drafters of legislation that permits these utility districts to be created — State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle — would allow for a simple majority if a supermajority could shoot it down by rejecting the bond.

“I therefore saw the bond passage as merely ministerial, and thus would have viewed a no vote or its failure as being obstructionist and in contravention, ultimately, of the special district enabling legislation,” she said in a text message. “I didn’t change my mind.”

Mr. Bouvier said when he first looked at the establishment of a utility district in Noyac, he thought residents wanted it to be for aesthetic reasons because they were tired of looking out at the poles from their windows. But after sitting on the Superstorm Sandy Task Force, which was in place to address how climate change and sea level rise will impact the coastlines, he said he realized that protecting infrastructure is paramount.

In the coming years, he said, people who live along the coast will eventually have to retreat from the beaches. With that comes the immediate protection of the electrical infrastructure.

“When I first considered this, I was considering it as an aesthetic dream for what the residents want, but after going through what we’ve gone through with the task force … I support this for those reasons in particular.”

The only vote against the measure was from Ms. Lofstad, who said she still could not fully understand how establishing the utility district for the residents on Cliff Drive would benefit the greater community.