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Garden City residents rail against giant power poles for third-track project

Large steel poles beside the Merillon Avenue LIRR

Large steel poles beside the Merillon Avenue LIRR station in Garden City on Friday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Giant steel utility poles are rearing their heads again on Long Island as MTA contractors work to complete a third-track project through 10 miles of Nassau County, angering some residents and officials who say project managers failed to properly notify the community of the size and location of poles.

The third-track project includes plans for 93 steel poles up to 100 feet tall, according to project paperwork, including 14 in the Village of Garden City. Nine are already installed around the Merillon Avenue rail station, surprising some residents who say they discovered them after sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was shocking,” said Alaine Lawlor, a Garden City resident who lives several hundred feet from the poles. Despite participating in community meetings about the project, she said she didn’t realize the size and location of the poles until she left her house in late March after two weeks of lockdown from the pandemic. “What’s most underhanded is they did this work specifically when we were sheltering at home,” she said.

MTA spokeswoman Brianna Borresen said, “All features of the project, including utility relocations, were evaluated during the environmental review process, which included an unprecedented level of outreach.” 

But a slideshow presentation by 3rd Track Constructors, the contractors of the project, acknowledged a late "design change" led to the decision to place the poles on the south side of the track rather than the north. The document prepared for residents notes village approval of the design change for the poles “was not required as these are PSEG-LI poles placed within LIRR property.”

Village of Garden City officials in an April 8 letter accused the MTA and LIRR officials of acting “in bad faith in breach” of their memorandum of understanding for the project by installing taller steel poles than expected on the south side of LIRR tracks rather than the north.

The letter by the village's third-track committee members on the board, Brian Daughney and Stephen Makrinos, charged that Garden City officials were “never asked or consulted with respect to the placement of 4-5 metal 120-foot high utility poles between the bridge at Nassau Boulevard and Weyford Terrace.”

In a letter in response to the village complaints, MTA and LIRR officials said space and “access constraints affecting the feasibility of constructing the poles and cable while maintaining active train operations” were the main reasons the initial project design was altered to include the tall poles on the south side of the tracks. They also noted that a feasibility study previously considered and excluded the notion of burying the lines.

MTA and 3TC officials have acknowledged that the design change “should have been communicated to the village at an earlier date.”

Garden City Village Administrator Ralph Suozzi, who is also chairman of the Long Island Power Authority, which owns the electric grid managed by PSEG Long Island, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

PSEG Long Island spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler, said, “We are not installing the poles or supervising the construction. As they (3TC) complete their designs, they present the plans to PSEG Long Island Transmission Engineering to ensure they meet all codes and standards.”

Borresen initially said PSEG/LIPA owns the poles, which were paid for through MTA's $2.6 billion capital budget for the project, but later said the poles are "not currently owned by PSEG." She said the MTA coordinated "extensively with utility companies with regards to the poles." Locations were driven by space on the LIRR right of way, while the size was driven by "PSEG standards and requirements," Borresen said.

The project manager's slideshow notes that steel poles are “stronger than wood” and more resilient to severe storm events, won’t be affected by downed trees, provide redundancy to ensure “a more reliable source of power,” and are “less intrusive and less disruptive” than buried power lines.

Residents and a state assemblyman charge that the poles were installed in the early phases of the pandemic in March when few people could scrutinize or press for their removal.

Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) said he’s received calls from dozens of constituents complaining about the poles, which have also inspired a petition with more than a thousand signatures. He described the poles as “really very large. It’s not anything like we’re used to seeing.”

PSEG has faced criticism before for its use of larger utility poles and claims that it failed to properly notify customers. In 2014, residents of Port Washington and East Hampton were enraged after PSEG set giant wooden poles on roadsides as part of transmission upgrades, with what residents said was inadequate notice. Three years later in Eastport, officials and residents rallied against more than 200 giant steel poles set in the business district and along Country Road 51.

PSEG last month recently removed dozens of giant steel poles in Eastport at a cost to ratepayers of about $12 million. Some residents say the more than 200 remaining present a roadside hazard.

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