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Planned Shelter Island substation stirs controversy

An aerial view of the North Fork of

An aerial view of the North Fork of Long Island on July 7, 2006. Credit: Newsday

Shelter Island is becoming the latest front in PSEG Long Island's sometimes-contentious effort to upgrade the regional electric grid, as some residents are lining up in opposition to a plan to build a new substation off a main thoroughfare.

The project, which would alleviate transmission bottlenecks onto the island, has support at high levels of town government, as long as PSEG can allay concerns about health, aesthetics and environmental effects.

After a $9 million project to build a new cable to the island was unsuccessful last year, PSEG this year proposed abandoning that plan in favor of splicing into a 105-megawatt main power line that runs under the island, and building a one-acre substation on Route 114. Substations convert higher power from transmission lines to lower power for use in homes and businesses.

Shelter Island now relies on distribution cables from each of the Island's forks to deliver around 13 megawatts of power, but the new plan would give the island its own substation with nearly 10 times the capacity. The proposal calls for building it on town-owned land that houses an old town highway barn on Route 114, a main thoroughfare across the island, nearby some homes.

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he favors the plan, but wants to see residents' concerns about noise, aesthetics and safety addressed before he puts the idea up for a town board vote before summer's end.

"If they satisfy my concerns and my community's concerns, I think it would be a major benefit for Shelter Island," he said.

"I still remain very concerned about meeting Shelter Island's growing demands for power in the face of a growing population and the increasing frequency of storms," he said.

PSEG officials last week led Shelter Islanders on a tour of a substation in Jamesport to demonstrate how such a facility could be built on the island.

This summer, to alleviate potential outages due to the loss of one of three cables to the island after superstorm Sandy, the island is host to 13 mobile generators, Dougherty said.

Some residents believe PSEG should explore another location for the substation.

Hoot Sherman, a former town supervisor who lives near the proposed substation, said he opposes it even while he believes he won't be affected by its noise or even see it.

"I'm opposed because they have options," including placing it at the town landfill or even again attempting an undersea cable, he said.

Richard Krause, 73, who owns a home that backs onto the site, said a petition has been circulating among residents against the substation and already has 500 signatures. Krause said his main concern is the potential impact of the substation on his water well, which is 100 feet from the proposed site. PSEG is keeping the temporary generators on the site for the summer.

"What do I do if that well goes bad?" from a spill on the site, he said. "I do have serious concerns, as do my neighbors."

PSEG officials visited Shelter Island this month to address concerns about the proposed substation, saying that electromagnetic fields, among other concerns, wouldn't pose a health hazard, and that the facility would be hidden from view by tall trees.

"We're leaning very heavily on PSEG about the aesthetics, good landscaping, and noise abatement, in a more dramatic fashion than has been done in the past," Dougherty said.

PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said the company believes the proposed substation is the best solution to the town's energy issues, but said PSEG would work with the town and citizens to explore alternatives.

PSEG has been embroiled in contentious interactions with some residents of Port Washington and East Hampton about transmission cables installed on high poles.

East Hampton Town temporarily blocked the project by issuing a stop-work order at a substation, and some residents there have sued PSEG to have the lines buried. The Port Washington line went live last month.

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