When a group of alarmed residents from McGuirk Street spoke passionately about their opposition to new wider and taller utility poles at a recent East Hampton Town Board meeting Supervisor Larry Cantwell shared their outrage.
In fact, Cantwell reiterated he had written to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to demand PSEG take down the poles and instead bury the cables underground, calling the poles "a travesty."
Later at the meeting former town board member Debra Foster, placed the blame on East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent Steve Lynch, claiming he green-lighted the project along with two other Republicans, former Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Theresa Quigley, a former town board member, in September 2013. Foster is a longtime Democratic Party Committeewoman.
Neither Cantwell nor Foster mentioned that Cantwell, as village administrator, had ample time to review the plan and sat in on discussions about it with representatives from the utility company months earlier.
In fact, Lynch had nothing at all to do with the poles on McGuirk Street, which is in the village.
According to PSEG records, meetings were held for months during Cantwell's employ with the village and firmed up on June 25, 2013, when he was still in office.
Cantwell said he only recalls attending one meeting with LIPA and village officials, but other sources said he sat in on at least three in May 2013 alone.
LIPA/National Grid had formulated the pole replacement plan over a year ago. During the early portion of 2013 a series of meetings took place with representatives of those two companies and PSEG, which was slated to take over the utility, and village officials.
Rebecca Molinaro, who succeeded Cantwell as village administrator officially on August 1, 2013, said she sat in on a series of meeting alongside Cantwell, Village Highway Superintendent Scott Fithian, and Mayor Paul Rickenbach in May. The pole replacement plan was discussed in detail, she said.
"The poles were originally going to be much higher," she recalled, but the utility company scaled the size back. "The mayor and the board noted that this would be a sensitive issue so it was an open process." She said the utility subsequently did a direct mailing to everyone, including McGuirk Street residents, along the route.
"This project should be built underground," Cantwell wrote to Cuomo last month. Yet once again, he neglected to say that option was thoroughly explored, and ultimately rejected, while he was the village administrator. "The mayor requested the lines be buried," Molinaro recalled. "They came back with varying reasons why they couldn't be." The village even ordered its attorney to see if the utility could be forced to bury the lines and found it did not have the authority to do so. Cantwell said he had no recollection of that occurring.
The pertinent issue Cantwell said, is that LIPA formulated its own environmental study, named itself the lead agency, and then issued a negative declaration, meaning a full environmental review was deemed unnecessary.
"That should have been reviewed by the village and the town and to my knowledge it wasn't," Cantwell said.
A timeline provided by PSEG details a series of meetings between village officials and the utility. "We proposed the overhead option, with the majority of poles being 55 feet," PSEG spokesman Jeffrey Weir related. "We agreed we would do the work offseason and file for a permit. Several different routes were proposed for the six miles from the village to Amagansett." The final route, up McGuirk Street, was agreed upon by May 27. Cantwell's last day as village administrator was July 31.
"I don't care what they are saying. If they want to attack me that's fine," Cantwell countered. "The fact is this project is an insult. It's having a devastating effect on the town."
However, all the new poles are in the village at this point. "I represent all the people," Cantwell said.
"I signed off on Town Line Road, but he approved McGuirk Street and Cedar Street," said Wilkinson.
Weir said on May 27 the village asked the LIPA team to host an open house and the transition team did so on September 12, inviting the public from the village and from the town to attend. "Then we got the approval" afterwards, Weir recalled.
"They [LIPA] set up one-on-one work stations with all the maps. Everything was discussed," Molinaro said about the public meeting.
Throughout the months-long process there was no rancor or hard opposition voiced – including from Cantwell. "There was some back and forth, some recommendations we decided on together," said Weir.
Quigley said she represented the town at a meeting with the electric companies in the fall, after the village had already signed off. She broached the idea of burying the lines, she said, but the utility official and the utility, along with the village had already ruled it out as cost prohibitive. More important, she said, some households wouldn't be able to handle the higher-wattage lines and would have to be omitted from the upgrade.
"I'm thick skinned," said Wilkinson. "But I'm not taking the blame for someone else's mistakes."
"He's right," Cantwell acknowledged. "I regret I didn't say something to Debra. I should have. I haven't blamed anyone."