Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand wants to remove utility poles and...

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand wants to remove utility poles and wires, like those seen here on Main Street. (June 1, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Splintered, leaning poles. Dangling, clustered wires.

Unsightly utility poles can be a distraction from an otherwise picturesque Main Street, say local officials. But the cost of trying to hide those utilities underground can be prohibitive.

"We're trying to do it here and there and hopefully all the pieces come together," said Shawn Cullinane, administrator clerk-treasurer for Lindenhurst Village.

Recently, village officials voted down a LIPA request to install a new pole downtown, on Wellwood Avenue. "Everything that's done on Wellwood Avenue, we've been pushing for underground utilities," Cullinane said. "We don't want to go back to having new poles."

Many Long Island municipalities have been asking developers to absorb the added costs and put utilities underground when they propose projects, said Nick Lizanich, LIPA's vice president for transmission and distribution operations.

But those costs can be four times as much as running lines overhead. It would cost LIPA an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion to underground its entire system, he said.

Many villages, attempting to keep the aesthetic quaintness of their downtowns, have placed underground utilities on their ultimate wish lists.

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said village leaders dropped the idea of burying lines on Main Street east of Route 112 once they learned the expense.

"We live in a 2 percent tax cap world now," he said. "You kind of look at those things a bit warily at this point."

In 2008, a group of Southampton Town residents demanded that power lines go underground -- and they agreed to pay for the project. Residents felt the nine miles of poles and lines on Scuttlehole Road would interfere with farmland and scenic views, said town comptroller Len Marchese.

LIPA absorbed the cost of burying about half the lines, and the rest of the $10 million price tag is being paid through a 20-year assessment on homes and businesses in the affected area -- about $3.50 per month for residents and $12 per month for businesses, Marchese said.

But burying lines has its problems, said Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro. Nassau County paid to put utilities underground along Post Avenue in the village when sewers were installed in the 1980s, he said.

It's worked well, except "when we've spent a couple hundred thousand dollars paving a road and then a month later they come and put a utility cut in a brand new road. That's not something we really like."

Traffic improvements also become problematic with underground power lines, he said.

"It's a complicated issue, and I'm not sure if aesthetic concerns are really enough to make people spend tens of millions of dollars, if not more, to do it," Cavallaro said.

Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said LIPA recently gave the village a cost estimate of $1 million to put wires underground on a less than half-mile stretch of Main Street. Ekstrand is trying to find grant money for the work.

"It's something everybody wants, but there's just no funding," he said. "It's more of a pipe dream than anything else."