State Law Allows Vote on Buried Lines

Following a storm of protest over the installation last year of new overhead high-voltage electric lines in East Hampton by PSEG Long Island, the state has passed legislation that could pave the way for future utility lines to be installed underground instead.

The new state law, sponsored by Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, will allow East Hampton Town to create “underground utility improvement” tax districts to raise the money to pay for underground installation of new lines or the conversion of existing overhead utility facilities to underground systems.

A movement to bury the lines was sparked when PSEG Long Island began construction of a new transmission line over six miles from East Hampton Village to a substation in Amagansett.

Residents and town officials who appealed to PSEG Long Island to consider installing the line underground were told that option was not economically feasible; it was estimated that the approximately $7 million cost of the six-mile extension would rise to $20 million or more if the lines were buried.

But the high-voltage line, Assemblyman Thiele said at the time, negatively affected the town’s scenic vistas, preserved lands, and the town’s rural character and quality of life. Along with Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach, he urged PSEG to consider a cost-sharing agreement, taking into account potential future savings on maintenance and repairs of lines that would be protected underground.

PSEG offered to place the lines underground only if the municipalities and ratepayers would shoulder the entire cost.

Under the new state law, the creation of underground utility tax districts would be subject to a permissive referendum, allowing affected voters to decide whether a district should be established.

Once an underground utility improvement district has been established, the town board could enter into a contract with a utility agency for underground work.

The legislation is before the governor for approval.