Town Win in PSEG Appeal a Victory for Local Zoning

A recent appeals court ruling in a case that grew out of PSEG Long Island’s expansion of an electrical substation on Old Stone Highway in Amagansett, represents a mixed decision for East Hampton Town, which had sought to hold the utility provider to local zoning laws that would have required planning board review of the project.

In 2016, a lower court said PSEG was exempt from those laws, leading the town to appeal; last week, in a win for the town, a State Supreme Appellate Court panel vacated the lower court’s ruling, “thereby returning local site plan and permitting control over to East Hampton Town,” according to a press release from Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.  

But the town will still have no say over the Amagansett site, as the court also ruled that, since construction at the substation had been completed during the appeal, it could remain without review. That portion of the appeal was dismissed as academic.

In April 2014, the town issued a stop-work order for the expansion of the substation in Amagansett until PSEG obtained a building permit and complied with the town zoning code. PSEG sued, claiming exemption from local laws. In a decision the next spring, a county Supreme Court judge agreed, and allowed the work to proceed, even though the town appealed and asked for a stay.

Had the planning board reviewed the project, PSEG may have been held to zoning code and design standards regarding such things as setbacks from the road, fencing, and vegetative screening.

As a result of discussions with PSEG representatives, largely by Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the company did eventually install some plantings around the site, but the effort, for some community residents, fell short. 

“East Hampton continues to move forward with our goal of achieving 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release. As a result of the decision, he said, “the infrastructure improvements that are being planned to achieve such a goal will now be subject to local regulatory control so that not only are the sustainable energy goals achieved, but the natural beauty and character of our neighborhoods are preserved and protected,” he said.

As the electrical service provider for the Long Island Power Authority, PSEG Long Island began work in 2013 to upgrade power transmission lines between its East Hampton Village and Amagansett substations. The installation of new, taller poles and high-voltage lines on residential streets along the six-mile route caused an outcry from residents concerned about safety and aesthetics and prompted a discussion about installing buried rather than overhead lines.  

In conversations with elected officials, PSEG representatives said they would bury the lines, but only if the town and local ratepayers shouldered the cost, which was estimated at $20 million or more. The overhead lines went up while those talks took place, and they have been left as installed.