After more than 100 mostly Montauk residents crowded an East Hampton Town Board meeting Thursday night seeking to squelch a PSEG Long Island plan to build an electric substation on a wooded hillside in the hamlet, the utility on Friday said it's also exploring other sites and options.
There was no formal board action on the plan Thursday night but the residents sought board support for getting PSEG, which operates the grid under contract to LIPA, to find an alternative site to one on Flamingo Avenue in Montauk for which PSEG has an option to purchase.
"I'm asking you guys to show some fire on this," said Tom Bogdan, founder and president of citizen action group Montauk United, which has gathered about 2,500 signatures in opposition to the site. "Get out there and protect us."
Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc told residents while it's the town's policy to move critical infrastructure out of flood zones, where PSEG initially proposed the substation on Shore Road, he also told them the Flamingo Road site was "not our suggestion. We did not support it. . . . We are not anywhere near giving our support for a specific site."
In a Feb. 7 email to residents shown to Newsday, town board member David Lys said PSEG has analyzed other locations beside Flamingo Avenue and “went into direct negotiations with the property owner without engaging the town.”
In any case, Lys said, he has requested that PSEG “look at a couple of other viable locations” beside Flamingo Avenue that they didn’t analyze previously. He said the company has “committed to doing so.”
In an interview Friday, PSEG spokesman David Gaier on Friday acknowledged “we are looking at other locations and all sorts of options,” and emphasized “we have not made any irrevocable decisions and have not bought the [Flamingo Avenue] property.” He added, “We recognize the legitimate concerns of the town and they can be sure we will address their concerns.”
Montauk commercial fishing activist Bonnie Brady urged the town to take its time finding a location for the substation, which PSEG said is needed because of peak power growth in the region.
"There is no rush," she said, questioning the assessment that power use is increasing on the South Fork. PSEG has said peak power use is increasing about 2 percent a year, even while the rest of Long Island has seen declines.
Montauk resident Anthony Testa told the board that residents need "total transparency" as the process of finding alternative sites moves forward. PSEG in the past has been criticized for starting big projects with little input, including an overhead high-voltage project in East Hampton that left officials wary of the company and fighting in court. Testa called the Flamingo Road site, "The worst possible location."
Opponents argue the 6.7 acre Flamingo Road site, which PSEG Long Island last month acknowledged it has a “contingency” option to buy, is environmentally sensitive, sitting in a water recharge area beside a water tower and a Montaukett Indian burial ground. It's a few hundred feet from the Montauk Manor hotel.
A tentative plan would call for excavating about 60,000 square feet of the hillside to place the substation, which steps down higher voltage power from transmission lines to lower voltages used in homes and businesses.
PSEG last month, stressing no plan has been finalized and that it intends to conduct public meetings, said it believes it can “balance” and “mitigate” many of residents’ concerns. The site, which is supported by a town plan to move critical infrastructure out of the long-term flood zone, consists of four separate parcels owned by the family of "Karate Kid" star Ralph Macchio. The family has not returned calls seeking comment on a potential sale.
While local residents have threatened to sue to block the plan, no such filing has yet been made, said Shaun de Jesus, who lives on Flamingo Avenue across from the proposed site. On Thursday, he urged the town to work with PSEG to find an alternative to the hillside site, even if it means a land swap. LIPA and PSEG had initially planned to put the substation on Shore Road near Fort Pond Bay, just up the road from an existing substation that juts into Fort Pond. A LIPA contractor, NextEra, is already installing a large $58 million storage battery on a parcel adjacent to the Shore Road site.
“The placement of this infrastructure will alter the face of Montauk for years to come, and I refuse to accept that these are Montauk’s only two viable options,” de Jesus said.