Greenport residents concerned about a proposal by PSEG to extend an underground cable between a Greenport residential street and Shelter Island took their protests to the Greenport Village Board on Thursday.
They called the idea poorly researched, dangerous and unfair, and said both the village and residents who would be forced to deal with loud construction noises and electrical wires running under their street.
“It is astounding that so little time from this board has been dedicated to this issue, for a project that has been discussed for over a year,” said Marissa Winkler, a Fifth Street resident. “Do you not owe the residents of Fifth Street more than the time you have dedicated thus far? I am stunned.”
More than 30 residents packed into the meeting room, furious with a Village Board they believed was rushing to approve PSEG’s plan of running a cable under Fifth Street. As the more than hour-long public comment period dragged on, some in the crowd grew more frustrated, openly shouting and booing at times.
The controversial project would run a cable under the Peconic Bay to Shelter Island Heights. The plan would give more reliable electrical service to Shelter Island, according to PSEG.
LIPA had preferred to build a substation on the island near the Shelter Island Historical Society, but vocal residents opposed that plan and the Shelter Island Town Board passed a resolution banning all substations on the island.
The refusal of Shelter Island to bear the burden infuriated some Greenporters, who had met with Village Trustees in an informal meeting earlier this month. Residents said Greenport was being forced to suffer because Shelter Islanders didn’t want the hassle.
“This is all because Shelter Island refuses to have a substation,” said Tom Spackman. “This is being thrusted upon us.”
Mr. Spackman, who works as a voiceover artist, said the construction project would prevent him from working. His home recording studio is already equipped with floating floors and soundproofing to keep out noise.
“None of that will stop what we’re talking about here,” Mr. Spackman said. “There’s no way I will be able to work. I know a little something about [decibels] and sound and what it does.”
Michael Osinski, who owns a oyster harvesting business in Greenport, said the Village Board should note that failure and how Southold Town has since refused to allow an underwater cable project again.
Mr. Osinski said the Village Board was being duped by PSEG into taking on another lengthy project.
“They’re going through the densest part of the North Fork,” he said. “Why? Because they think they can wave some money in front of you and you’ll buy it … They will walk all over you and all you will see is the bottom of their boot.”
Others were concerned the cable could pose a health hazard to residents due to “electromagnetic effects” flowing from the cable itself. Village Administrator Paul Pallas said no studies exist that show cables are linked with negative health effects.
“Nothing’s disproving it either,” a resident sitting in the audience retorted.
Some members of the Village Board praised the positive effects of a more reliable electric system and the million dollar fee PSEG has promised to pay would have on the Village’s budget.
“Our problem is we don’t have the money,” said Trustee Doug Roberts. “This is potentially an entire year’s worth of taxes.” Under a tentative deal pitched by PSEG officials to some of the Village Trustees in private meetings, the company would pay the village $1 million for the project and provide free repaving work for the roadways affected.
The company also agreed to pay a $10,000 fee for every day they go over the projected three-month completion time.
Board members agreed that — before any decision was reached — the village would need to do more research and get additional answers about residential concerns over noise, disruption and health effects.
“These people won’t even put an agreement on paper,” Mr. Roberts added. “No paper, no deal.”
Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she believes the Village Board needs to “make this process a win-win for the village — or a no-win and it doesn’t happen.”
“We have to put the emotions aside a little bit here,” she added.
Some residents said they didn’t know whether they believed the Village Board would follow through on its due diligence.
Greenport resident Ross Edwards said no other project would have even been considered by the board without proper planning and questioned whether the trustees would be able to stand up to the power company.
“You don’t have any information,” he said. “You don’t know where the digging is. You don’t know what kind of drill is going to do the digging. You don’t have any idea what the noise is going to be.”
John Winkler of Greenport said a lack of communication by the board likely caused the blowback Thursday evening.
“You have to educate the people,” he said. “But you’re not doing it and I don’t think it’s fair.”
Trustees and PSEG representatives are planning to schedule a public meeting to discuss concerns about the project.
Photo: Fifth Street resident Chris Biemiller in Greenport speaks at the Greenport Village Board meeting Thursday night. (Credit: Paul Squire)