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Nov 1, 2017 10:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Governor Signs Law Permitting Underground Utility Districts In Southampton Town

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and state Senator Kenneth LaValle.
Nov 1, 2017 11:27 AM

Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation permitting Southampton Town to create underground utility improvement districts, in which both newly installed and older above-ground utility lines can be buried.

The bill, cosponsored by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth LaValle—and signed by the governor on October 25—includes electric transmission, cable and telephone lines.

While this bill applies only to Southampton Town, Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday that he is now in deliberations with the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG Long Island to establish these districts islandwide.

“We’ve had a positive reaction to this in Southampton,” he said. “We’d like to extend it to Brookhaven Town and, ultimately, to wherever LIPA operates, so all of Long Island.”

It is particularly significant that the district could be extended to Brookhaven, since that town is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against PSEG and LIPA for installing an estimated 175 metal poles, ranging from 70 to 110 feet, connecting utility lines along a 7.2-mile stretch between Eastport and Riverhead. The town is demanding that the utility remove the poles and bury the lines along Eastport Manor Road, between Montauk and Sunrise highways.

Jeffrey Weir, spokesperson for PSEG, said this week that the utility “did not oppose” Mr. Thiele’s legislation, but he did not address inquiries about the discussions to possibly extend the law outside of Southampton Town.

According to Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, both sides are still in the negotiation phase of the lawsuit and are hoping to reach a settlement soon. Though he was unaware of conversations between Mr. Thiele and utility officials, Mr. Romaine said that he is “happy discussions are happening” regarding the possibility of Brookhaven also boasting underground utility improvement districts.

The utility districts will operate much like sewer districts. They will be brought about by either public petition—requiring the signatures of 50 percent or more of those who will be residents in the district—or at the town’s suggestion, which would be subject to a permissive referendum. A map and plan would also have to be produced and a survey for the State Environmental Quality Review Act conducted.

Southampton Town will have to enter into an agreement with all utilities affixed to the poles to bury the lines. “LIPA always takes the lead on things like this,” Mr. Thiele said. “It hasn’t been an issue so far. Utilities like Verizon and Cablevision usually get on board.

“LIPA has always said that they’d bury the lines if we pay for it,” he added.

Mr. Thiele noted that the cost will depend on each individual project, but that the communities will pay for it like any capital improvement project, most likely with a combination of bonds up front and reserved money.

Burying the lines has both aesthetic and safety benefits, as storms can bring down lines causing outages and fires.

“This legislation would provide the Town of Southampton with another tool to safeguard their electrical infrastructure from future storm damage with the opportunity to share costs or spread them out over time,” Mr. LaValle said in the press release.

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