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Jul 5, 2016 4:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

State Legislature Approves Construction Of Underground Utilities Districts In East Hampton

New legislation would allow utility lies to be buried in East Hampton. LAURA WEIR
Jul 5, 2016 5:02 PM

The New York State Legislature has approved a measure to enable the establishment of underground utility improvement districts in East Hampton, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle announced last week. The measure now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

The special taxing districts would work with public utility companies to bury new utility lines underground or convert existing aboveground utility lines to underground. The lines can include electric transmission and distribution lines, cable television lines, and telephone lines.

The recent expansion of aboveground transmission lines in both Southampton and East Hampton towns prompted Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle to introduce the legislation. In 2013 utility poles were erected in Amagansett and East Hampton to criticism by members of the community who said the poles were too high and were a danger because of a toxic substance used to treat the wood.

The legislation would allow East Hampton to form underground taxing districts by the same process and procedures used for forming special districts like water or sewer districts, but the legislation would be subject to a permissive referendum. In order to form the new districts, the Town Board would have to enter into a contract with a public utility company, municipality, or public authority.

“What happens is that PSEG [Public Service Enterprise Group] and LIPA [Long Island Power Authority] will put up aboveground wires because it’s the cheapest method of putting up wires,” Mr. Thiele said. “The public will oppose that and want underground wires since it’s safer, but it’s also more expensive.”

Mr. Thiele explained that PSEG and LIPA would put the total funding for building aboveground facilities toward the higher cost of building underground facilities, but the rest of the money would have to be raised by the community via a tax levy.

A PSEG spokesperson could not be reached for comment by press time on Tuesday. Officials of the utility company had originally said that placing utilities in East Hampton underground would cost $4 million to $6 million per mile.

On Wednesday, a PSEG press person responded with a prepared statement. 

“We applaud the legislature for giving east end communities a mechanism to underground power lines through local funding, while protecting ratepayers in other parts of Long Island who don’t benefit from the expenditures,” said PSEG's Jeff Weir. 

“This is really a local method of collecting money for building these power lines underground,” Mr. Thiele said.

The assemblyman said the legislation would be sent to the governor’s office sometime between July and September.

Helene Forst, chairperson for Long Island Business For Responsible Energy, an East Hampton advocacy group formed following the siting of the new poles in 2013, seemed optimistic about the plan.

“The legislation is an encouraging step forward, which would not have occurred but for the LIBFRE efforts, and for the legislators,” she said in an e-mail. “The town has the authority to negotiate to achieve undergrounding consistent with protection of the ratepayers, taxpayers, public health, and the environment.”

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Let's take all the poles down, everywhere.
By HamptonDad (236), Hampton Bays on Jul 5, 16 5:08 PM