Montauk Homeowners May Pay to Bury Lines

The expansion of an ongoing project to remove utility poles and relocate the attached power and communication lines underground along a stretch of Old Montauk Highway is now in a wait-and-see mode as the leadership of the Montauk Beach Property Owners Association tries to gauge their members’ interest in continuing the work.

Currently, eight homeowners along the highway are privately funding the approximately $650,000 cost to bury the utility cables in front of their properties that lie between Davis Drive and the west side of Cleveland Drive along Old Montauk Highway. 

In recent months, the association’s leadership has begun exploring whether another 62 of its members — 37 of whom have properties directly abutting Old Montauk Highway — are interested in mounting what would be phase 2 of the project, perhaps by working with the Town of East Hampton on a bond issue to finance it. Most of the remaining properties lie east of Lincoln Avenue. 

Ed Gentner, president of the association, says response to a letter he sent to the membership in mid-February has been slow.

“I don’t really have a good feel yet on how many people have a good feeling about the project, and how many do not,” Mr. Gentner said in a phone interview Monday. “Keep in mind that the M.B.P.O.A. itself is not spearheading the project. We are simply looking to keep the owners within the association who are likely to be affected informed of pertinent developments, without attempting to influence the respective positions of those owners.”

Expanding the project would require several steps. Before the construction bond could be issued, the town would require the association to hold one or more public hearings on the matter, and then a majority of the affected homeowners would have to approve the bond issue via a referendum vote. The cost has not been determined for Phase 2 or Phase 3, which could involve East Hampton Town perhaps finishing burying the PSEG, Verizon, and Altice cable lines all the way to where Old Montauk Highway and Route 27 meet at the gateway into Montauk’s commercial district.

If the bond issue is approved, a special tax district would most likely be created for the participating association members, Mr. Gentner said, and they would be issued an annual assessment to pay off the debt with interest. Another possibility could be dividing the 62 property owners into subgroups, with the specific work in each area paid for using whatever financing method each subgroup chose.

“We’re concerned about making sure if this project does move forward, our homeowners aren’t exposed to any hardships from the assessment,” Mr. Gentner said. 

Beyond that concern, Mr. Gentner said, “I personally don’t see any negative to the project.”

In his letter eight weeks ago to Montauk Beach Property Association members, Mr. Gentner said it was the association board’s belief that completion of the utility pole removal project would be “a positive development for the association community” by creating “a more favorable aesthetic” along Old Montauk Highway and perhaps increasing members’ property values. 

“A safer, less vulnerable utility infrastructure would also result,” Mr. Gentner wrote, “likely reducing both the number and duration of service interruptions.” 

When asked if such service problems happen often, Mr. Gentner said, “I’m not saying it’s totally intolerable, but from November to March especially we do get some breakdowns. You always see repair trucks along the highway, working on the poles.”