The East Hampton Town board, facing a deadline next month, has signed a letter of intent seeking a federal grant to bury power lines leading to Montauk -- but the town may have to pay a quarter of the project's $8 million cost.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) told town officials last week that the grant had to be applied for by filing a letter of commitment by July 5, but the board has not decided how to pay for the project. The board has reservations about how bonding for the work, and then waiting for federal reimbursement, might impact its budget under the state tax cap.
The board voted 5-0 to file the letter, but the five members asked the town attorney to review the application to make sure there is no commitment to do the work, because there is no guarantee they will win the grant.
The federal grant program aims to protect infrastructure that could be threatened by storms or other natural disasters.
"I was very satisfied by the response," said Montauk Realtor John Keeshan, who has been trying to get the power lines leading to Montauk put underground for four years. "It all has to begin with the town."
The overhead power lines leading to Montauk are particularly vulnerable to storms because of their proximity to the ocean. Keeshan said that at least 3 miles of transmission line would have to be buried, going west from the hamlet business district. "If we only get half of it buried, we'll be better off by half," he said.
The town board has discussed whether to create a special taxing district so that only area residents would be charged for the work, or to have the cost spread out townwide, but no decision has been made.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said because the town would have to first pay for the entire job and then be reimbursed, issuing bonds for the entire project and paying for them when federal reimbursement comes could create cash-flow problems.
Bishop said on Friday that applying for the grant was not an irrevocable commitment, and that the town would be able to decide not to proceed with the work. He also cautioned that applying was no guarantee of getting the competitive grant.