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Year in Review: PSEG power plays

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO A PSEG sponsored tour by public officials and residents of a Jamesport substation in July only solidified growing opposition to building a similar facility here.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO
A PSEG sponsored tour by public officials and residents of a Jamesport substation in July only solidified growing opposition to building a similar facility here.

It was going to take just a couple of months.

That’s what Islanders were told in April 2013, when LIPA announced it was preparing to drill a tunnel from Crescent Beach to Greenport and run electric cables through it to provide permanent backup power to the Island.

The cable was essential, LIPA maintained, since existing cables were damaged during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. LIPA was concerned that the Island could be left with only one cable, resulting in possible power outages during the peak summer season of 2013.

Plans called for beginning work to replace the backup cable with the tunnel project in April 2013, with an estimated completion date by mid-May or, certainly, by Memorial Day.

But the project became a long-running comedy of errors, when LIPA’s contractor, Bortech, missed every deadline set for it from May to Independence Day and on through the summer to Labor Day. The curtain finally came down when Bortech’s chief executive, Robert Titanic, was told by LIPA in October that his company was fired.

When PSEG, a New Jersey-based company, took over Long Island’s power grid in January of this year, there was talk of kick-starting a new cable project with another contractor. But that was thrown out when executives from PSEG went before the Town Board in May with a whole new scenario.

No pipeline, but a substation to be built on the Island.

Then began another drama, which concluded with still no action on a permanent source of backup power, now 21 months into the saga.

The PSEG representatives explained that electrical substations 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 and comes to the Island via underwater cable. It then travels underground following Route 114. The two distribution cables meet on the highway at the old highway barn site just north of the Historical Society’s Havens House. This was the ideal site, PSEG said, for the new power station.

There was only one problem. Neighbors near the site, including the Historical Society, organized a coordinated and vocal campaign of outrage that a PSEG substation would be built in their residential neighborhood.

PSEG executives sponsored a tour of a substation in Jamesport in July for residents to familiarize themselves with the site and prove the power company’s assertion that substations were “benign.”

Cancer survivor Peggy Johnson, whose house is only yards from the proposed site, recoiled at the word, saying, “That’s almost an insult to us.”

The tour of the substation changed no minds, only solidifying the protest against installing one on the Island. And elected officials got the message.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he’d been misled by PSEG representatives, who told him a Jamesport substation would be “very similar” to the proposed site. After a visit to the North Fork facility, he was “quite disappointed” it was “not in a residential neighborhood.”

Councilman Ed Brown, who had been the most outspoken board member against any substation for the Island, was even more adamant after the visit. Councilwoman Chris Lewis said the visit to the substation made clear to her that a similar facility for the Island would “be too ambitious a project … It’s too big, too high, too wide, just for starters. We’ll have to find another location.”

Two alternative sites were floated — a portion of land at the Recycling Center and town-owned property near the intersection of West Neck Road, New York Avenue and North Menantic Road. This is a 4-acre parcel across the street from the Capital One Bank with Ice Pond to its north.

The latter was shot down almost immediately by public opinion while the Recycling Center still might be viable.

In early November, Mr. Dougherty said he had met with PSEG officials, but there was no news to report.

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