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Southold residents call for new contractor to finish power cable project

Robert Swing, of Southold, stands near a drilling

Robert Swing, of Southold, stands near a drilling project site, next door to his Bay Shore Road home. Credit: Randee Daddona

Southold residents fed up with summerlong noise and delays in completion of a power cable between Southold and Shelter Island met last week with LIPA officials to vent their outrage.

They say they asked that the Long Island Power Authority find a new contractor with modern equipment to finish the job, following months of equipment breakdowns and delays that will push completion into the fall.

"I do not have any confidence they can complete this job successfully," said Celia Swing, who with her husband, Robert, owns a home less than 20 feet away from the Southold end of the project near Conkling Point.

The couple's car was splattered with drilling slurry when a machine "blew up" earlier this summer, and the constant high-volume noise and movement of heavy equipment have made living near the small private town beach difficult.

"I've had it," said Robert Swing, standing beside a battery of heavy equipment being used to dig and line a 4,000-foot tunnel so that a new power cable can be snaked through. At last Friday's meeting, he said, "I gave it to them [LIPA] with both barrels."

LIPA last week acknowledged a major equipment breakdown deep in a 36-inch diameter tunnel more than 50 feet below the sea bed in Southold Bay that could push the project's completion to mid-October. Residents were initially told the $9 million project would be finished by the end of May. Next week, LIPA must clean up a slurry spill on the bay bottom.

Nick Lizanich, vice president of transmission and distribution for LIPA, said the authority has hired an outside consultant to review the plan that the contractor, Bortech Co., has suggested for removing the broken equipment from the tunnel.

Residents said they want a new company to finish the job and fear that it will extend into the New Year. Bortech officials didn't return a call seeking comment.

"We're tired of the excuses and delays," said Celia Swing. "We're doing everything we can to get this project stopped."

But while work has stopped because of the broken equipment, other unplanned work will begin. An unexpected leak of a slurry liquid called bentonite onto the bay bottom has forced LIPA to conduct a cleanup. Residents say they were told the work will be done with vacuum trucks from land and that a contractor will be on the job as early as Tuesday.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said, "We have notified the state Department of Environmental Conservation" of the spill "and submitted a plan for the cleanup, which they have approved."

LIPA has three cables to Shelter Island, one from the South Fork at Sag Harbor and two from the north at Southold. LIPA said the work was necessary because one of the three cables failed after superstorm Sandy. LIPA is installing three separate conduit tubes in the tunnel so that it can upgrade service to Shelter Island later if needed, Lizanich said. The two remaining cables are fully functional, but LIPA has set up backup generators to Shelter Island to ensure it will have ample power through the high-demand summer.

LIPA still doesn't know if, or how much, the complications will increase the cost of the project. It's "way too early to speculate," Lizanich said.

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