March 19, 2014

Big Bucks Bargaining Begins

(click for larger version)
By Kitty Merrill

Ratepayers in East Hampton aren't handing PSEG a blank check. That's the message area electeds sent this week to David Daly, president and chief operating officer of the utility.

On Friday he wrote East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach summarizing the utility's proposal regarding the ongoing installation of massive utility poles and the potential for changing them out for underground, buried lines. In the missive, he repeatedly noted that nothing will occur until town and village officials agree to pay for it all, without question.

They do get to review expenditures after the fact, but they can't challenge them.

Hold your horses, was the underlying sentiment in a correspondence to Daly signed by Congressman Tim Bishop, Senator Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Cantwell and Rickenbach on Monday.

It's "imperative" the issue of cost responsibility be addressed immediately, the quintet wrote. They pointed out that precedents for cost responsibility for underground transmission lines as set in the Town of Southampton five years ago, when neighbors wanted lines along Scuttlehole Road buried.

LIPA paid half the cost of the project and residents who benefited by the burial paid the other half. Town officials drew the map outlining which property owners should have extra added to their monthly bills to cover the cost of the project. They chose town residents living in an area that stretched from the village east to the East Hampton border. Some residents have reported an increase of just $3 to their monthly bill. "East Hampton residents deserve no more of less than the residents of Southampton," the officials' letter states.

Daly's March 14 letter offers an overview of discussions held earlier this month. Summarizing the summary – PSEG will study alternatives to the existing project, initiate preliminary engineering studies to identify a route, quantify costs for relocating the current project underground, design and execute an underground project, then remove or reduce the height of the existing poles. Work will continue on the current project.

Rebecca Singer, spokesperson for the community group Save East Hampton, described the letter as "a major disappointment, to say the least." The group wants PSEG to halt work on the current project immediately and install generators until an underground project can be completed in two years' time. "We do not want to go live on the 23/33 K poles ever," Singer wrote in a release distributed last weekend.

Daly's summary of the nature of discussions held between PSEG and local officials, plus Save East Hampton members, she said, "is a breach of trust and fails to live up to our intent."

"From my vantage point, it was a fairly accurate representation of what was discussed at the meeting," Rickenbach said of Daly's letter. For now, he cautioned, "It's work in progress." Officials are slated to meet with PSEG again and, said the mayor, "We'll see how it unfolds."

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