After years of complaints, protests and two fatalities, LIPA and PSEG Long Island say they are reviewing the placement of more than 100 giant steel poles on a high-speed roadway on the East End to make them safer.
PSEG Long Island, which last year was forced to remove 31 steel poles in downtown Eastport after safety and aesthetic complaints, on Wednesday confirmed that the 2016 pole replacement project was under review. More than 100 poles anchored in concrete and 70 to 90 feet high on County Road 51 are set just a few feet from the edge of a 55-mile-per-hour two-lane roadway and are not protected by guardrails. The power transmission lines on the steel poles connect from a substation in Riverhead to one in Eastport.
"While the poles were reviewed via the normal permitting process and conform to applicable standards, PSEG Long Island is reviewing options to enhance the safety" of the poles on County Road 51, spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said.
The first fatal accident involving the steel poles occurred in December 2017. The driver, police said, struck one of the larger poles at the intersection of County Roads 51 and 111. That dented pole has not been replaced, as originally planned by the utility.
More recently, a couple driving in an SUV struck a steel pole in the early morning hours of Nov. 8, killing a passenger and severely injuring the driver, according to authorities.
The placement of the giant steel poles on County Road 51 from Riverhead to Eastport was the subject of a lawsuit by Brookhaven and Southampton towns, and resulted in a settlement that last year led PSEG to remove 31 of the poles from a narrow road in the Eastport business district.
Roy Reynolds, president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, and an engineer, published a report in November saying the poles were "dangerously too close to the shoulder of the roadway and create a serious safety hazard to those using the roadway."
He pointed to "inconsistencies" with their placement in contrast to standards published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the New York State Highway Design Manual. Reynolds noted that most of the poles on County Road 51 are around three feet from the roadway shoulder and "unprotected from vehicle crashes." The Highway association recommends a clear-zone between the poles and vehicle traffic of 26 to 32 feet.
In a December letter to Guy Mazza, director of the state Department of Public Service-Long Island, Reynolds criticized the agency for a "disturbing" lack of oversight, saying the agency has "defended the installation of the poles and seemingly acted as a spokesperson for LIPA and PSEG," while additional accidents involving the poles have "resulted in injuries and another fatality.
DPS spokesman James Denn said the agency was reviewing Reynold’s letter and "will respond, as appropriate."
In a letter to LIPA in January, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said he shared Reynolds' concern that the Suffolk County Department of Public Works "did not adequately review the potential dangerous impact these large poles anchored in six feet of concrete, which are literally adjacent to the roadways, posed to motorists."
Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), echoed Romaine's concerns, noting the fatal accidents and urging the county to "pursue the question of whether the county Department of Public Works' review in granting the highway permit for the installation of these poles was thorough."
LIPA in a statement said it "shares the goal to have a motorway that is safe for motorists. LIPA will be reviewing PSEG Long Island’s plans and monitoring discussions with the Suffolk County Department of Public Works." No time frame for any possible improvements on the roadway was provided. PSEG has previously said the option of burying the power lines was too expensive.
Suffolk's Department of Public Works, in a statement said it has "no authority or jurisdiction over the placement of LIPA steel utility poles on County Road 51 and County Road 55." County Road 51 straddles Brookhaven, Southampton and part of Riverhead.
The department added that, "Since LIPA is a utility, it is exempt from local approvals. LIPA provides plans to the county as a courtesy for awareness purposes, and a permit is issued for record keeping only."