Neighbors await word on stalled LIPA project

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Greenport homeowners Celia Swing (from left), Jessica Kerr and Giovanni Patané beside piles of equipment and materials from the Long Island Power Authority pipeline project to Shelter Island. The residents met with LIPA officials Aug. 30 to discuss the future of the stalled $9 million job.

Lying in bed Aug. 24, wearing earplugs to block out the noise, Jessica Kerr of Island View Lane in Greenport was trying to sleep.

About 100 feet from her bedroom window, contractors operating heavy drilling machinery under motorized spotlights were entering the final phase of a $9 million Long Island Power Authority project to install a new electrical distribution cable from Greenport to Shelter Island. They had been working for 32 hours straight.

“There were spotlights, vibration and noise,” Ms. Kerr said. “Then it got quiet.”

It’s been quiet ever since.

The project, which began in April and was originally scheduled to be completed by Memorial Day, was later extended through August and is now on hold. The upgrade required drilling a nearly mile-long hole about 90 feet below the bay’s bottom. The hole would be fitted with pipes to protect three cables that would eventually be threaded through.

The work stopped when a piece of the drill rig broke off in the pipeline.

“The drill rig experienced a break while pulling the new conduit [pipe] through the hole,” said Mark Gross, a spokesman for LIPA. “The piece broke off in there, and it’s not like you can just go in there and pull it out.”

Now, about two weeks after the work was stopped, the broken piece of machinery remains buried, stuck about 500 feet from Greenport’s shore as LIPA officials work with the contractor, Bortech Company Inc., on a new course of action.

“We’ve asked [Bortech] to submit plans to us in writing on how they plan to go about fixing this issue and finishing the project,” Mr. Gross said.

It is yet another snag in a project residents on Island View Lane have been fighting for five months.

About six residents met with Nick Lizanich, LIPA’s vice president of transmission and distribution operations, and other LIPA officials to discuss concerns.

“If this hasn’t worked since [April], I have absolutely no confidence that any further work is going to succeed,” said Celia Swing, who lives with her husband, Robert, at the intersection of Island View Lane and Bay Shore Road.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Equipment and a portable bathroom linger in front of the home of Robert and Celia Swing at the intersection of Island View Lane and Bay Shore Road.

Ms. Swing had been asking LIPA officials to re-evaluate the project since June, when difficulties with the project began.

Bortech officials experienced problems drilling through the bay bottom in June, according to LIPA officials. That turned what was supposed to be a six-week project into what is now a four-month ordeal — with no end in sight.

“Part of the problem is the community that is being impacted is small in numbers; being small in numbers is not as effective,” said Larry Cafaro, who lives with Ms. Kerr.

Ms. Kerr said that while the workers have been “extremely patient and very friendly,” the project “just got so fouled up.”

“My entire summer has been ruined because of the noise,” she said.

Bortech has worked on drilling projects for National Grid, the state Department of Transportation, Con Edison and New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, according to its website. Bortech founder and CEO Robert Titanic deferred comment to LIPA.

Had the pipe-pulling process gone as planned, the next step would have been cleaning up terminals at both ends and then pulling electrical cables through the tunnel. That was expected to take about two weeks, Mr. Lizanich said.

As for any additional project costs, “the short answer is we would anticipate any costs incurred would be the responsibility of the contractor,” Mr. Gross said.

At the same time, area residents have another project to watch out for.

During the meeting last Friday, residents were told bentonite, a claylike material used during drilling, was somehow spilled on the bay bottom during the project.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring LIPA to clean up the bentonite using a vacuum-like tube, said Giovanni Patané, who owns a home on Island View Lane and attended the meeting Friday.

“We submitted a plan for cleanup to the DEC, and it’s going to start sometime this week,” Mr. Gross said. He did not have a figures on how much bentonite had been spilled, saying only that “it wasn’t a large amount.”

LIPA officials told the residents the bentonite will be transported to the shore in Greenport and put in containers to be hauled away, Mr. Patané said.

The cleanup will take about a week, Mr. Gross said.

DEC officials were not immediately available for comment.

“I am disappointed because this project has been delayed for so long,” said Scott Russell, Southold Town supervisor. “LIPA has come to me and assured me that they will be coming in the next few days with an outline and a timetable for [finishing] the project.”

As they look for a new plan, area residents are asking that LIPA consult alternative contractors to complete the job.

“In our opinion [Bortech] is not qualified to go forward,” Ms. Swing said.

“I would definitely entertain other contractors, other solutions to the problem,” Mr. Patané said. “They should start now looking at all options. We want to know what their plan is, and when is it going to be over, realistically.”

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With Julie Lane

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