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PSEG Cables Beneath Long Pond Greenbelt?

Thu, 06/23/2022 - 11:48

Driving north to Sag Harbor along the Bridgehampton-Sag Turnpike, you may have noticed an electrical substation on the west side of the road, standing in stark juxtaposition to the surrounding woods. It’s owned by PSEG-Long Island, the electric utility company.

On Tuesday, PSEG will present plans to install a five-mile-long underground transmission line between that substation and the Buell substation on Cove Hollow Road in East Hampton. Work is expected to begin in 2024 and be completed by the summer of 2025. For three to five months, during the proposed construction period, a portion of the Long Pond Greenbelt would be closed for safety purposes.

The underground cable would run beneath existing high wires, which slice the greenbelt in two and at present connect the two substations. The high wires were installed in the early 1900s, before zoning and land-use laws were created to protect the environment. According to the utility’s draft environmental impact statement, the steel lattice towers supporting the wires are 80 feet high in some places.

Noting the sensitive nature of the greenbelt in the D.E.I.S., PSEG claims that “horizontal directional drilling” (H.D.D.) will help to mitigate environmental concerns. Using H.D.D., a tunnel is bored underground and the cable pulled through, as opposed to digging a trench and laying the cable.

Opponents of the plan assert, however, that there are many other ways to avoid disrupting wildlife habitat in the greenbelt. The lines should bypass the greenbelt altogether, they say.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele told The Star this week that he supports “an alternative that doesn’t require the transmission line to drill its way through the Long Pond Greenbelt. [Southampton]Town, [Suffolk] County, the state, and conservation organizations have invested heavily to protect the ecological integrity of the greenbelt. It should be the option of last resort. The public needs to let PSEG know the value the community places on the resources in the greenbelt. PSEG should not make the same mistakes with transmission lines that they have in the past in East Hampton Village and Eastport.”

The public will have a little extra time to react, thanks to legislation sponsored by County Legislator Bridget Fleming and passed in early April. “This legislation implements a critical measure that adds a necessary check on the process if PSEG decides to move forward, and allows the public time to become aware and provide input,” she said. Her bill, IR 1334, strengthens the original legislation passed in 1986 that made it possible for the county to protect the land.

“They’re putting a giant vault in by Long Pond, to work on the cables,” said Dai Dayton, president of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, an all-volunteer organization that acts as a steward for the greenbelt. “It will be a work area for them. This is supposed to be protected land. It just should not be there.”

PSEG has forecast electrical demand to grow over the next decade at roughly 2 percent a year. Without upgrading its transmission lines, the utility foresees “an unacceptable risk of damaging . . . equipment, which could result in significant customer outages.”

Besides the bisected greenbelt, the Bridgehampton substation is an island surrounded by more protected land, land where the state-endangered tiger salamander lives and breeds. To install the cable, PSEG would have to clear nearly an acre of that land.

Frank Quevedo, executive director of the South Fork Natural History Museum, said that salamanders have large ranges. “Salamanders don’t just stay on their breeding grounds. They may be 1,400 feet away from a vernal pool. If those pools are dry, they may move to another pool,” he said. “Disturbance of this habitat will most likely lead to the demise of this species and many others.”

“I oppose any underground or above-ground disturbance anywhere in the Long Pond Greenbelt.”

The cable would also run through a county groundwater protection area and through a portion of a water-recharge critical environmental area. According to the D.E.I.S., “Three freshwater wetlands within the Long Pond Greenbelt directly intersect” the underground cable.

An “action alert” put out by The Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt warns that “PSEG anticipates that 15 thousand gallons of liquid waste/slurry will be generated each day . . . there may be unexpected occurrences or frac-outs where slurry is released into the system of the coastal plain ponds and our aquifer.”

Eight species of animals and eight plant species identified as either rare, threatened, or endangered could be affected by the installation, says the alert. According to the D.E.I.S., “The United States Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes the greenbelt as a ‘priority wetland’ under the federal Emergency Wetland Resources Act.” The area is also recognized, by the New York Natural Heritage Program, as a “Priority Site for Biodiversity.”

As part of its project, PSEG must hold a public information session and provide some alternatives to its plan. One alternative, described in the impact statement and supported by Ms. Dayton, would be to run the cables south along the turnpike, then east along Montauk Highway, and up Route 114 in East Hampton to the Buell substation. That route would run just under seven and a half miles, and cost $84.7 million dollars, roughly double the cost of going through the greenbelt.

“What do they care?” said Ms. Dayton, regarding the cost. “PSEG won’t end up paying for it. I still get the bills for Scuttlehole Road going underground. And that was just because people didn’t like the look of the wires.” (In 2008, the Long Island Power Authority, which now owns PSEG-LI, buried a similar line following complaints from Scuttlehole Road residents.)

The Long Pond Greenbelt is owned by the Nature Conservancy, the town, and the county. “They each own about a third of the land,” said Ms. Dayton. “We believe those three landowners should protect this land they’ve worked to preserve.”

The public information session will be held on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at LTV Studios on Industrial Road in Wainscott, to be followed immediately by a formal public hearing. Comments on the D.E.I.S. can be submitted via email to [email protected]. The public comment period will end on July 12.

This story has been updated to correct the start time of Tuesday's information session.

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