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A Win for Greenbelt Activists

Thu, 02/01/2024 - 10:51

Activists block PSEG power cable in preserve

The route PSEG is exploring for its transmission line snakes north through some residential areas of Sag Harbor Village, but avoids the Long Pond Greenbelt altogether.
PSEG Long Island

In a significant win for the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, PSEG Long Island, one of the 10 largest electric utility companies in the United States, has opted to forgo its original plan to install an underground cable through the greenbelt, a 800-acre protected corridor of wetlands, ponds, and woodlands that stretches between Sag Harbor and Sagaponack. PSEG had announced its intention to drive through the transmission cable, connecting an electrical substation on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike with one off Buell Lane in East Hampton, in 2022. Work was set to begin this year but, instead, the electric utility is now exploring an alternative  route that would redirect the cable under roadways to the north.

“The greenbelt is 100 percent off the table,” said Elizabeth Flagler, a spokeswoman for PSEG, which operates the electrical grid owned by LIPA.

To pressure PSEG to abandon its original plan, the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt had harnessed the voices of its 370 members, while leveraging powerful Long Island political forces in New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and then-Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming.

“The number of people that came out and wrote letters, and Bridget [Fleming] went to the county and had them pass something saying they’d have to get permission from the Legislature — everybody stepped up and PSEG got the message,” said Dai Dayton, the preservation organization’s president. “When so many different groups come out and say how much it means to them, they listened.”

Ms. Fleming’s resolution, which was approved in June 2022, made it necessary for PSEG to gain approval from the Suffolk County Legislature before it could do work in the easement. “Normally, it would be an administrative matter,” said Ms. Fleming, in a phone call. “Instead, the resolution meant there would be a further public conversation about the route, that a majority vote from legislators was necessary for it to continue, and that everything was done in the sunlight.”

“The utility is under a lot of pressure,” she continued. “With climate change upon us, we need a resilient electrical grid. It’s critically important. But one element of the cost-benefit analysis has to be our natural environment. This was a really great example of the community engaging to make sure things were done in a thoughtful way.”

“It’s a big victory,” said Mr. Thiele. “The community has worked hard for decades to protect the greenbelt. Tens of millions of dollars have been invested to preserve it. It remains widely utilized and viewed as one of the real treasures on the East End, which was reflected at the public hearing. It was really the breadth and depth of public concern that turned PSEG around on this, and caused them to look at other alternatives.”

Local environmental organizations, including the South Fork Natural History Museum, which sits smack-dab in the middle of the greenbelt, testified at a public hearing that the impact on the greenbelt’s rare and fragile environment would be irrevocably harmed.

“We are pleased with PSEG’s decision not to disrupt the Long Pond Greenbelt’s natural environment,” wrote Frank Quevedo, the executive director of the South Fork Natural History Museum, in a statement. “I applaud PSEG for recognizing the sensitivity of this land, but most importantly commend the community for having a voice on behalf of our animals and their habitat.”

At a public hearing in June 2022, more than 50 members of the community spoke in opposition to the project; none spoke in its favor.

The preservation of the greenbelt began in 1968, when Suffolk County, the Nature Conservancy, and the Town of Southampton worked together to protect more than 600 acres of land between Otter Pond in Sag Harbor and Sagaponack Pond. Rare coastal-plain ponds, freshwater swamps, wetlands, fields, and woodlands were all preserved. Today, the mixture of relatively undisturbed habitats supports rare and common fauna and flora and is an important stopover and breeding area for many bird species.

The new route PSEG is considering heads north on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike to Jermain Avenue before turning right on Madison Street, then traveling a short distance and turning left on Harrison Street. Harrison Street ends at Route 114, under which the transmission line would continue until Cove Hollow Road, where it would tunnel underground to the Buell Lane substation.

“PSEG Long Island is committed to delivering best-in-class system reliability to our customers,” said PSEG in a press release. “The Bridgehampton to Buell transmission infrastructure upgrade project is necessary to address the significant increase in demand and enhance reliability on the South Fork of Long Island. As part of the requirements of the Environmental Impact Statement (E.I.S.) required for project development, several project alternatives and routes were analyzed. The route currently being evaluated is one of the alternatives identified in the E.I.S. and would avoid the Long Pond Greenbelt in its entirety. We will continue to evaluate the new route for feasibility and other concerns and will provide a final decision later this year.”

“Dai has been the protector and the leader when it comes to preserving and managing the Long Pond Greenbelt,” said Mr. Thiele. “Yes, a lot of government resources have gone in, but she never gives up and she’s willing to spend the time and organize people. There aren’t a lot of Dai Daytons out there, and the greenbelt is lucky to have someone like her.”

“You can’t back off. You have to stay with it,” said Ms. Dayton. “There’s always threats, and everyone should know that. They should be aware of their open spaces. You may think they’re safe, but that’s not necessarily so.”

 

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