Residents packed Town Hall Tuesday to hear PSEG make a second, more detailed pitch to build an electrical substation on an acre of town-owned property next to the Shelter Island Historical Society on South Ferry Road.
The New Jersey-based power company, which replaced LIPA at the beginning of this year, made a case that a substation would be safe for the environment and human health, be properly screened from passersby and nearby residences and would create little or no noise.
Resident’s and Town Board members met PSEG’s presentation with skepticism and some asked for further information.
PSEG representatives have told the board that a substation is critical to supply Shelter Islands’ electricity in case of emergencies and for the long term.
In late May, PSEG representatives met with the board and proposed the substation in light of a disastrous attempt by LIPA last year to run another power line under the bay from Crescent Beach to Southold. 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 have disparaged that idea in light of the catastrophe of the $9 million LIPA scheme.
On Tuesday, Steve Marron, supervisor of distribution planning for PSEG, told the board that drilling another pipeline could cost as much as $20 million if another route, that is longer than the abandoned one, is needed.
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. But in the case of a severe storm, for example, the Island could be in danger of losing power.
PSEG’s 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 underwater cable. It then travels underground following Route 114. The two distribution cables meet at the old highway barn site, next to the Historical Society. 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.
The town-owned parcel is an ideal and inexpensive spot to build a substation according to PSEG, since tapping a distribution cable and running a line to a facility costs anywhere from $5 to $7 million a mile.
OUT OF SIGHT
PSEG representatives showed slides of substations that would be similar to what is proposed for the Island, with the goals of screening the facility, which would be 17 feet at its highest point, from the road and from residents. A chain link fence topped by barbed wire will define the perimeter and evergreen trees that can grow to 30 feet will hide that. Lighting will be “dark skies” compatible, as defined by the Town Code.
There will also be several narrow lighting rods of 35 feet high to keep lighting from striking the facility.
Ed Aldrich, environmental permit coordinator for PSEG, said that there is a careful step-by-step process before his office gives the go-ahead to build a substation, relying on a regulatory review to come into compliance with local, state and federal environmental requirements. “Our engineers will keep in mind, even during construction that we make no adverse impacts short or long term,” Mr. Aldrich said.
There’s a pond at the proposed site and Mr. Aldrich noted that all restrictions and regulations concerning wetlands would be adhered to.
He was followed by Dr. William Bailey, a consultant to PSEG and a specialist in electrical and electromagnetic fields (EMF.)
As for electrical fields, these are blocked by almost anything, including the ground, fences or trees, Dr. Bailey explained. As for EMFs, all home appliances produce them, but “a characteristic of EMFs is they’re highest at their source but quickly diminished in intensity with distance,” Dr. Bailey said.
In a study he conducted recently at a substation in the up-Island community of Bohemia similar to the proposed facility here, results showed that a few hundred feet from the perimeter for the substation the EMF measurement was negligible.
There have been “thousands of studies” on the effects of EMFs, which have been evaluated by several organizations. In 1990 Congress directed the National Institute of Environmental Health Services to report on all EMF studies available and in 2007 the World health Organization did the same. The conclusion from both reports, Dr. Bailey said, is that EMFs “are not known to cause any disease.”
He quoted the WHO’s conclusion that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”
Later in the meeting, resident Stan Birnbaum noted that the “thousands of studies” were not quoted, only evaluations of them, and Dr. Bailey directed Mr. Birnbaum to studies posted on line.
Responding to a question from Councilman Ed Brown, PSEG representatives said they had no knowledge of any law suits charging the company with health violations. A suit currently in East Hampton has do with permitting.
WHY HERE? WHY NOW?
Several residents joined Mr. Brown accusing PSEG for a rush to judgment, and not pursuing another pipeline project under the bay, or siting a proposed substation somewhere in a nonresidential area, such as the Recycling Center.
Attorney Kimberlea Rea asked if the power company had done a feasibility study of other options, including a new cable or siting the proposed substation elsewhere, and if so, would they release the study. Mr. Marron said it was a possibility.
Former Supervisor Hoot Sherman called the idea of building a facility in a residential zone “unconscionable.” He acknowledged that the board can change zoning, but added, “it’s incomprehensible when Shelter Island has always been proud of good stiff zoning.”
Elizabeth Pedersen, president the Historical Society, said, “you would not be my first choice as a neighbor.” She asked about personnel at the substation, vehicles and noise.
Mr. Marron said the proposed site would be “unmanned” except for periodic maintenance and in case of emergencies. There would be practically no traffic to or from the site.
As for noise, Ms. Pedersen was told that at the Jamesport substation “the transformer hums when in service.”
At the fence line of the facility the sound has been measured at 47 decibels, equivalent to moderate rainfall, a PSEG representative said.
Councilman Peter Reich asked for assurances that a proposed site wouldn’t be used for storage, and was told it wouldn’t. Mr. Sherman asked if the town could get in writing that the site wouldn’t be used as a maintenance yard.
Supervisor Jim Dougherty said the idea “would be taken under advisement.”