People in Montauk have about had it with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). The power authority, whose everyday grid operation is run by PSEG—Long Island, is already a proxy for the unpopular Deepwater Wind South Fork Wind Farm, which critics fear will decimate local commercial fishing operations in Montauk. And though its customer satisfaction ratings have risen steadily over the years elsewhere, LIPA just can’t shake its negative image on the East End.
Now the dissatisfaction has morphed into a full-fledged battle. Residents, suspicious of LIPA’s long-term goals, are rising up to stop the construction of a new substation. So far, 2000 people have signed a petition to keep LIPA from constructing a battery park and substation near the Montauk Playhouse, in a residential neighborhood; it’s the third site considered in less than a year.
LIPA critics are aware the winds of change are shifting, and New York State’s approach to its future energy needs will focus more on wind-driven and less on fossil-fuel energy. The East End is a hotspot: Hundreds of offshore wind-generating windmills are going to be built in ocean waters off Montauk, and so far, at least one project, Deepwater, is hoping to come ashore in East Hampton Town.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the entire electric grid system in East Hampton is archaic and due for an upgrade. The pace, the timing, and the extent of the upgrade has intensified in recent months and LIPA and PSEG have moved up the timetable to modernize the system — and prepare it for massive loads of electricity, more than the town will ever need.
“The own of East Hampton claims the utilities have pledged to go through the town planning board site process — but don’t be fooled, this process will be limited in scope only to opine on the plans for the site, not the actual location of the site itself (that is determined when the utilities purchase the land),” the petition reads. “This is why we must rally together and act now before PSEG — Long Island and LIPA buy the land and it is too late to change the substation location.”
In a document titled “Additional budget requests for 2018 Approved and 2019 project,” LIPA lists upgrades, which will be completed before the summer of 2020. A new 138-kilowatt cable from Riverhead to the Shinnecock substation is among the proposed improvements. The entire system, from Montauk through Amagansett, and East Hampton to the Buell Lane substation, would be upgraded from 23 kV to 33kV; the projected cost is over $100 million. Many of the major lines in Montauk are getting upgrades in capacity.
When LIPA and PSEG originally announced a plan for a battery park on Shore Road after almost three years of planning, locals questioned the wisdom: the site has been known to flood on occasion.
In March, the East Hampton Town Planning Board approved the plan by a split vote, but three months later a neighbor sued to stop the construction. Tonia Ries, a Navy Road resident, maintained the town did not do an adequate environmental review.
“I remember thinking the same thing. If I recall, it received a negative declaration,” said Jeff Bragman, a noted local zoning and planning attorney who now serves as a town councilman.
But the town and the Federal Emergency Management Administration, independently, conducted studies that indicated the Navy Road site would hold up in extreme weather conditions. A PSEG study concluded the preferred Navy Road location scored a 31, the highest, in the eight-category matrix; the Montauk transfer station, offered as an alternate site by Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, scored a 26.
Nevertheless, PSEG agreed to relocate the project yet again, this time to four wooded, residential parcels on a sloping hill off Flamingo Avenue. Neighbor reaction was immediate and overwhelmingly negative. According to their petition, “The four plots of land (20 Fenwick Pl., 22 Fenwick Pl., 66 Fairmont Ave., and 68 Fairmont Ave.; aka the Flamingo Avenue site to build a football field-sized electrical substation site (approx. 60,000 square feet) in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Montauk is one of Montauk’s primary traffic thruways and is highly visible to residents and visitors alike.”
A neighbor, Shaun de Jesus, is spearheading the effort to stop the latest version of the project and has plenty of support. “The Flamingo site is zoned residential and disrupts hundreds of residents. About 200 of the 2000 signatures are from Montauk Manor residents that overlook the Flamingo site and another 100 are from neighboring properties that will be impacted if a substation is constructed,” he said of the petition earlier this week.
De Jesus maintains that, because of the cut of the land and the scope of the project, it is destined to be an eyesore. “There is no plausible scenario in which LIPA/PSEG or the town will be able to successfully screen from view a football field-sized substation that’s on the side of the road on an upward sloping hill,” he said.
The proposed site was on the town’s list for preservation in 2011 but discussions never entered a serious stage.
Elizabeth Flagler, a spokeswoman for PSEG, said no final determination has been made yet whether to indeed buy and build on the property. Ralph C. Macchio, the owner of the four lots, filed for a residential subdivision back in 1990. After a ruling and court challenge, the town planning board prevailed in state Supreme Court, limiting development on the Flamingo site to single-story residential due to its proximity to critical water wells, archaeological significance, and visual prominence.
“Why is this now a good location for a football field-sized substation?” De Jesus asked.