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Power play: Residents sound off on PSEG

COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board heard from residents at its work session Tuesday on a proposed substation.

COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board heard from residents at its work session Tuesday on a proposed substation.

On one side, there were flashes of anger, concern and suspicion. On the other side there were calls for calm, caution and assurances that a process was just beginning.

The issue was PSEG’s proposal, aired before the Town Board three weeks ago, to build an electrical substation on South Ferry Road next to the Shelter Island Historical Society’s Havens House.

“Is this a done deal?” resident Mark Labrozzi demanded at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

“It’s an only-started deal,” Councilman Paul Shepherd said. “My hand to God, there’s no effort to shoot this under the table.”

Mr. Labrozzi and several residents peppered the board with questions, fears and predictions about the proposed substation, and were parried by answers that no decision has been considered.

Three weeks ago the New Jersey-based power company met with the board at a work session and proposed a substation in light of a disastrous attempt by LIPA last year to run another power line under the bay. That project was deep-sixed last autumn.

Drilling another conduit under the bay for a second cable from the North Fork was an option to ensure reliability of electricity to the Island, but PSEG officials disparaged that idea in light of the catastrophe of the $9 million LIPA scheme.

A remaining cable from the North Fork and one from the South Fork have adequate capacity to provide electricity to the Island under normal conditions, according to PSEG. But in the case of a severe storm, for example, the Island could be in danger of losing power.

The answer: An electrical substation that will take high voltage and convert it to lower voltage to be distributed to residents and businesses.

Currently, power is distributed from substations in Southold and Bridgehampton that then comes to the Island via under water cable. It then travels underground following Route 114. The two distribution cables meet next to the old highway barn site, next to Havens House

The plan is then to tap those cables and run the power back to the substation where it can be converted to lower voltage and distributed to Island residences.

But Mr. Labrozzi said he had a sense of déjà vu, reminding the board that six years ago he was ready to sell property to LIPA for a substation, but ran into a firestorm of public opposition. That woke him up to the environmental dangers of a substation, he said.

He recalled a packed Town Hall meeting. “They attacked me for what I was trying to do,” he said. “Now it’s OK. “

“It’s not OK,” Councilwoman Chris Lewis said. “Nothing has happened yet.”

“I can’t believe you’re even entertaining this,” Mr. Labrozzi said. He described the proposed site as “surrounded by houses and lots in the center of town. What is there to think about?”

On the option to dig another tunnel under the baby to ensure reliable power, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said the option was “ semi-on the table.”

“It should be on the table,” Mr. Labrozzi said.

Later in the meeting, Mr. Dougherty was more certain, stating the tunnel option was still in play.

Former supervisor Hoot Sherman said the issue had not been publicized enough, which was echoed by others. “It’s been in the paper once, Mr. Sherman said.

The Reporter had the story on it’s website the morning after the initial work session that PSEG attended, and on its print edition front-page that week. Two weeks ago the Reporter had a full story (“PSEG substation pros and cons,” June 5).

“From what we can figure [the substation] is nowhere near as benign as they would like you to believe,” Mr. Sherman said. “They’re trying to put this under the table so it’s nice and quiet and they can get this thing done.”

He noted that a year ago the only answer to reliable electric service was another power line from the North Fork. “That failed so instead of getting another company that can put the line across we go to whole different approach and put in a substation,” he said.

Mr. Sherman said he’s not “a member of the Committee Against Everything,” but wanted more information from PSEG.

Later in the meeting he engaged Supervisor Dougherty, asking him how much the power company would pay in a lease deal for the one acre on South Ferry Road PSEG has targeted. Mr. Dougherty said “it’s very early days, we haven’t gotten into any of that stuff.”

“You say we’re in dire financial straits, and a couple of bucks we’re getting from these people is what’s going to drive this whole thing,” Mr. Sherman said.

“No don’t worry about that,” Mr. Dougherty said.

“Oh, I worry about it,” Mr. Sherman replied.

Councilman Ed Brown said at the meeting with PSEG he had asked about health concerns and didn’t get answers that satisfied him. He added that he was “bothered” PSEG didn’t present any other options except the substation.

Kimberlea Rea addressed the board, beginning by saying the opinions she was expressing were her own and not of her law firm, Westervelt and Rea. She said she was echoing Mr. Sherman’s remarks.

“We don’t have enough information, “Ms. Rea said, and called on PSEG to present a detailed “project description. “This is an industrial facility they’re talking about building here,” Ms. Rea added.

Elizabeth Pederson, board chairman of the Historical Society, told the board, “I’m counting on you to listen to the people and listen to history and not get caught up in what is best for an immediate need. “

Ms. Lewis reiterated that the process was just beginning, but suggested a public meeting at some point, using the high school auditorium, if necessary, allowing PSEG to present its case and receive comments and questions from the public.

At the meeting three weeks ago, PSEG representatives said they would furnish the Town Board with photographs of current substations similar to what they propose for the Island. They also said would organize a field trip for the Town Board to current substations in operation. As of Tuesday, no photographs had been delivered and no schedule has been provided for a field trip.