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Greenport power cable project nears agreement despite opposition

Greenport resident Christian McShea is leading an effort

Greenport resident Christian McShea is leading an effort to stop an electric cable to Shelter Island from being tunneled under his street, Jan. 18, 2017, in Greenport.   Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

As PSEG Long Island and Greenport Village near an agreement for a $30 million cable through the North Fork village to provide extra power for Shelter Island, a handful of opponents who live on the affected street are making a last-ditch effort to stop it.

It’s a longshot effort that pits the small group, led by Christian McShea, against PSEG/LIPA and, according to Greenport Mayor George Hubbard, the 90 percent of village residents who he says support the project.

After years of misfires, delays, negotiations and public outcry, Greenport is preparing this month or next to debate and vote on the project, which would provide $1.3 million in cash and electric-system benefits to the village while giving PSEG a long-awaited solution to the Shelter Island shortfall.

Three tunnels will be drilled deep under the Peconic Bay from Fifth Street in the village to bring a 13,000-volt cable to Shelter Island.

Shelter Island has declined to allow PSEG to install a substation on the island, saying such “industrialization” is against Shelter Island town code. Temporary generators costing hundreds of thousands of dollars have been installed on the island during the peak summer months in the interim to prevent power shortages.

McShea, who lives on Fifth Street, ground zero for the proposed cable, has been waging a largely one-man war to stop it. He’s met with LIPA and PSEG officials, has been an outspoken critic at village board meetings and, months ago, was part of a group that hired a lawyer to find a way to block it. But no legal challenge to the plan has been filed.

McShea said he’s concerned about the high-voltage line running down the street in front of his house and the potential health affects on his family. He and others worry the complex project, which a contractor previously failed to complete when it was attempted a few miles west in Southold, disrupting dozens of residents, could end up repeating the disaster.

“Why does it need to be done here when they should have put the pressure on Shelter Island?” he said. “We don’t need to rip up the bay bottom like they’re doing. It’s sacred land and shouldn’t just be decided when there are other obvious routes.”

Neighbor Sharon Klotzer said she opposes the project because too little information has been released, and because approval could come in March, when many residents are not in town.

“I think there was not enough transparency,” she said. “We didn’t even get an inkling of it until this past summer.”

William Swiskey, a former superintendent for the Greenport power utility and a Fifth Street resident, said he’s reserving judgment until he see’s the final offering from PSEG.

PSEG’s proposal includes a new power line not only for Shelter Island but for Greenport as well, along with a new automated switching gear that would greatly reduce the time it takes to restore power in an outage. The $1.3 million cash payment to the village would lower village taxes by 5 percent for all residents. Mayor George Hubbard said the payment would also pay for badly needed public works projects and a face-lift for the park where construction could begin as soon the fall.

PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said the company and LIPA are reviewing the contract before returning it to Greenport, which will get a final vote.

But McShea said he’s reviewed the utility’s application, and found it deficient. PSEG didn’t properly explore alternatives to his neighborhood, he charged, and never took into account an annual osprey’s nest that’s located on shore directly beside the cable site.

In an email, a PSEG official said it reviewed seven separate locations before settling on Fifth Street.

Weir said PSEG has a “thorough process” to identify environmental impacts, which would be “avoided, minimized or mitigated through project design.”

Hubbard said that if returned soon, the contract could be voted on by the village board by April after a two-week public-comment period. Given new protections built into the contract, he said, he expects it to be approved.

Among them are restrictions on the hours and days of work, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no Sundays but “a few Saturdays to get the project done sooner.” Work could start at the end of September at the earliest and be finished in six month, by spring. Digging on the roadway would be done in sections. The park at the end of Fifth Street will remain open through the work, though a parking area will be the main staging area.

One of the village’s demands is that if the project goes beyond six months, PSEG must pay a $10,000 a day penalty. If PSEG violates the contract three times, the village has the right to void it. PSEG is using different boring technology on the drilling that should be less of a nuisance, Hubbard said.

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