The state Department of Public Service gave an important nod to two hotly contested cable projects on either end of Long Island Friday, saying their completion before the summer is "necessary to ensure the reliability of the electric system" in their regions.
The conclusion could further stoke a firestorm over the two projects, in East Hampton and Port Washington. Residents in both communities have complained about the height of new poles and raised concerns about aesthetics and the safety of the high-voltage lines in neighborhoods and along scenic thoroughfares.
DPS staff reviewed studies used by LIPA and PSEG-Long Island "in developing the projects and has determined that the projects are necessary to ensure reliability of the electric system in each of those areas," Michael Worden, the Public Service Commission's deputy director for electric, said in the executive summary.
"It is during the summer period that increased demand for electricity places the electric system reliability in greatest jeopardy, and therefore, both projects should be completed before the summer of 2014," Worden said.
East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell took issue with the conclusion, noting that the new cable will provide backup to two existing cables.
"Resiliency and redundancy are a good thing for East Hampton but it's not a necessary for today, so the alleged urgency of this was a false premise by PSEG," he said.
North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth said the state's "endorsement of the PSEG reliability project does not address many of the concerns here in our communities," including "inadequate" public outreach and "the potential health risk posed by the chemically treated poles."
Part of the East Hampton project is at a standstill after the town issued a stop-work order last month at a LIPA substation in Amagansett, at the end of the 6-mile, 23,000-volt line. The case went to State Supreme Court, where PSEG was rebuffed in several attempts to immediately rescind the stop-work order. A ruling on its request is pending.
The DPS has a "review and recommend" role at LIPA and PSEG but it does not have to power to fine or sanction them as it does other state utilities.
DPS spokesman James Denn said that while the report backed the underlying need for the project, it "is not a stamp of approval."
"DPS continues to review the process, public outreach and other aspects and is keenly aware of the concerns of the community," he said.