A $31.7 million power-line project from Riverhead to Eastport with large steel poles that have riled neighbors and businesses is nearing completion — but it’s just the start of a related $513 million South Fork grid upgrade meant to bring more reliable power to the electricity-hungry Hamptons.
PSEG Long Island in recent months has been fielding complaints from residents and businesses along a stretch of Eastport connected to a seven-mile array of 80-foot steel poles along a wooded stretch of County Road 51. The utility has selectively offered to shield poles with curbs and trees.
The 69,000-volt power line required more than 175 steel poles and thicker cables from a substation in Riverhead to one in Eastport. Substations convert high-voltages from plants to lower voltages used in homes and businesses.
“It plays into the whole East-End issue,” said John O’Connell, vice president of transmission and distribution at PSEG. “Thicker wires, more capacity — it’s part of bolstering supply” on the South Fork. The project’s main aim is to give a needed power boost to Eastport and East Moriches, O’Connell said.
Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico said he’s holding a meeting with PSEG and residents on Tuesday to voice grievances about the project. “I don’t think anyone knew those industrial poles would come down Eastport-Manor Road through the historic district,” he said. “The outreach from PSEG was next to non-existent.”
PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said Panico was “thoroughly briefed” on the project before it began, including customer outreach.
As Newsday previously reported, LIPA trustees have approved the $513 million South Fork grid fortification project to address a region that is increasing its energy use by more than 2 percent a year, while the rest of Long Island is reducing power consumption.
And even though the $513 million upgrade will essentially solve the South Fork’s problem, LIPA also approved a $1.62 billion wind farm to bolster East End power from turbines located 50 miles away from the East Hampton substation, in waters off Long Island. LIPA also approved two giant storage batteries valued at $109 million, temporary generators for the summer peak months, and demand-reduction programs at a cost not yet disclosed.
The new power sources and the grid upgrade are expected to cost all Long Island ratepayers around $3.67 a month when they’re completed.
Most of the thick steel poles planned for the residential and business area of Eastport have already been set. O’Connell said no more steel poles will be needed as the work moves east, including for additional high-voltage power lines, and upgrades to six East-End substations.
Bob Olish, who works at the family’s Olish Farms Country Market, said the giant steel poles have disrupted traffic patterns, made it harder for customers to back up at the store, and changed the character of the hamlet.
“They’re just in the way,” said Olish. “It’s an eyesore.”
Weir said while steel poles are used where needed across Long Island, Eastport is one of only two recent projects to set them in residential-business road.
Olish and others asked why the wrist-thick power cables could not have been set underground. Many are only a few feet from the roadway, and only a small stretch of County Road 51 several miles north of the hamlet has guard rails.
Eileen Collins, owner of Island Bead & Jewelry on Eastport Manor Road, said the work has disrupted business for the past month or more. “I’d prefer they put the money into doing it underground,” she said.
Weir said cost was the main reason the lines weren’t buried. High-voltage lines rated at 69,000 volts would cost from $6 million to $9 million a mile to bury, he said. O’Connell said burying even the last mile hadn’t been considered.