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Garden City files suit over 'enormous' steel utility poles

Large steel poles beside the Merillon Avenue LIRR

Large steel poles beside the Merillon Avenue LIRR station in Garden City seen here on June 12, 2020. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Village of Garden City has filed suit against the MTA, the LIRR, LIPA and PSEG, charging they "engaged in a pattern of deceptive behavior" to install "enormous" steel utility poles as part of the Third Track construction project.

In a 44-page suit filed in state Supreme Court in Mineola on Feb. 4, the village claims the state agencies, along with PSEG Long Island and its parent, PSEG, "willfully misled" the village and its residents in the placement of 120-foot steel poles in the village, around the Garden City rail station. Among other things, the suit demands the more than dozen poles in the village be removed and "demolished."

The state agencies "intentionally and fraudulently made false statements" to the village and elected officials and their constituents about the poles in advance of their installation, the suit claims, and "breached promises made" in a memorandum of understanding with them before construction began.

The suit also alleges that the relocation of utility poles and other electric-grid structures, "while conducted under the auspices of the LIRR Expansion Project by the MTA and LIRR, was actually intended to benefit PSEG-LI and LIPA, and to circumvent their obligation to conduct an independent" state environmental review as required by law.

PSEG declined to comment "on pending litigation" for what it termed an "MTA project." LIPA, in a statement, said, "While this lawsuit appears to be a dispute between the Village of Garden City and the MTA, LIPA is proud to partner with the MTA and will respond to the papers in court."

Garden City Village officials and their outside lawyer did not respond.

MTA spokesman Tim Minton, noting the project has been on schedule and within budget largely due to community outreach, called it "all the more unfortunate that a small group of residents and elected officials, mostly who never bothered to engage in the substantial amount of planning that went into this project, are now spearheading a NIMBY effort to stall progress."

He said opponents are using "that flawed and outdated argument that the same important infrastructure that the Village of Garden City benefits from is OK, just as long as it’s placed on the ‘other side of the tracks’ — in the backyards of a community with fewer resources."

Hundreds of Garden City residents and public officials rallied in protest against the poles last summer, after they first began appearing in March 2020.

MTA officials in responding to past Newsday stories at the time, said the agency had been "very clear about the height of the poles and the general direction" from the start, and that it had no intention of taking them down. (PSEG in 2020 was forced to remove 31 giant steel poles in Eastport after public officials and neighbors complained.)

Residents in Garden City who live in the shadow of the structures say they were placed on the opposite side of the tracks from the agreed-upon plan, and were taller than expected. Around 14 of the poles are in Garden City, but some 79 more are part of the full Third Track project, they said.

The suit charges the state agencies’ alleged false statements rendered the environmental impact studies and other required filings "invalid, illegal, void or voidable."

In addition to requesting the removal and demolition of the poles, the suit requests a ruling to set aside a state environmental review process for the project, and complete a new one that includes "proper public input and comment" in regard to the poles for the project.

The new poles "represent a substantial increase in the adverse assault on the aesthetics and community character of the Village of Garden City," the suit says, adding that the environmental impact statement called for wooden poles 50 to 80 feet tall, on the north side of the tracks, not the south, where they were placed.

The LIRR expansion project, which covers a 9.8-mile section of rail from Floral Park to Hicksville, includes a third Main Line track. As part of the project, the agencies are relocating electric, gas, water, sewer, communications and signal infrastructure, including poles on the LIRR right of way.

Richard Corrao Jr., who leads a group called Resident Voters Against Monster Poles, called the lawsuit to remove the poles "a good thing."

"They’ve wrecked this neighborhood, and the response from the public servants is, ‘Too bad,’" he said, referring to the MTA and other agencies charged with working with the community on the project's design.

Alaine Smith Lawlor, who lives in the shadow of the poles 100 feet from the rail station, said the lawsuit has been "a long time coming."

"We’re hopeful it will mean something will be done about the poles," she said, adding that she doesn’t want the structures on either side of the tracks.

"The whole look of the station is nothing like what it used to look like," she said, since the poles went up last March, at the start of COVID-related lockdowns. "There had been a lot of greenery, now there are huge bright lights."

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