PSEG Long Island says it will "publicly commit" to bury a controversial East Hampton electric line only after town and village residents agree to pay all costs of the project, an offer that one residents group quickly labeled "a disgrace."
East Hampton officials responded to PSEG's latest offer by saying PSEG should follow a precedent set by LIPA and Southampton in 2008, and split the cost of the project, with federal disaster funds defraying some costs.
PSEG has been working for months on a six-mile overhead transmission line that snakes through neighborhoods in East Hampton village and town on poles up to 65 feet tall. Residents have been working since February to halt work on that project and persuade the utility to bury the 23,000-volt line due to their aesthetic and safety concerns.
PSEG met with local officials and residents last month and agreed to consider alternatives, including burying the line and removing or shortening the new poles. PSEG has estimated the cost to bury the new line at more than $30 million.
The Friday letter from PSEG Long Island president Dave Daly details how any changes to the original project would be covered. Burying the cable "will be subject to the Town/Village of East Hampton paying PSEG Long Island for all costs that are incremental to the current 23/33 kV overhead pole-line project between East Hampton and Amagansett substations," the letter states.
"There will be no assignment of costs . . . to any Long Island customers outside of the Town/Village of East Hampton nor will PSEG Long Island or LIPA be responsible for the payment of these costs," whether the project is completed or abandoned, the letter says.
Rebecca Singer, a spokeswoman for the residents group Save East Hampton, said the letter took the group by surprise -- particularly a clause saying residents could not challenge any of those costs. Singer noted that when LIPA agreed to bury a controversial power line in Southampton five years ago, the utility bore some of the cost.
"We feel that letter was such a disgrace -- it was totally unacceptable," Singer said. "We can review but not challenge the numbers? What are we, grade school children?"
In a letter responding to PSEG's offer, state and local officials asked the utility to follow the Southampton precedent by dividing the costs to bury the new line. Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell, East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr. and other officials projected the total cost of the project at $28.6 million.
They said $8.5 million in federal disaster relief funds may be eligible for construction and pole modification, cutting the tab to $20.1 million. That cost, they said, should be split evenly between East Hampton residents and the entire 1.1 million PSEG Long Island ratepayer base.
Singer faulted PSEG for continuing work even as residents reached an agreement with the utility to bury the lines.
“We asked them to stop Feb. 6, they’ve gone on and rushed through the job,” she said. “They could have stopped a long time ago and stopped charging us the double money. PSEG is going to be paid twice” to install and remove the overhead line, and to bury the new one, Singer said.
PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir called residents’ reaction to the utility’s letter “disappointing” but said, “We are absolutely committed to working with them and with elected officials ... on a solution.”
He said work on the overhead line will continue because “there is a reliability issue for summer 2014, and we need to achieve that for them and all of the residents of East Hampton.”
Residents and East Hampton officials are expected to meet as soon as Monday night to discuss options. Singer said the group wants PSEG to explore whether three small electric generators in Montauk that were decommissioned last year could be brought back on line to handle summer's peak load, so work on the overhead line can stop.
Singer said Save East Hampton also plans to work with a Port Washington group, Keep the North Shore Beautiful, to fight the transmission line projects. A 69,000-volt line is being strung on 85-foot poles from Port Washington to Great Neck, leading some residents to protest. Singer said the East Hampton group is planning rallies and protests to stop the work.