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After PSEG sweetens deal, Greenport Village Board to back Fifth Street project

11/18/2016 7:05 AM |

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PSEG Long Island’s controversial plan to run a cable line under Greenport’s Fifth Street and across the bay to Shelter Island will be moving forward with the Village Board’s blessing.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr. announced the board had agreed to green light the idea after the energy company sweetened the deal it had offered the village. The power company promised to increase the amount of cash gifted to the village and install for free a backup power cable and automatic “switch gear” that will cut down on future power outages.

“The whole board we feel this is a good deal for the village overall,” Mr. Hubbard said. “It’s going to be an inconvenience to some people for the general good of everybody.”

The board’s approval will come at its next meeting in the form of a “letter of intent” which signals the village is willing to pen a contract with PSEG for the work — which the Village Board and PSEG agreed will be pushed off until the fall of 2017.

PSEG’s proposal calls for laying an underground electric cable through Fifth Street in Greenport and digging a 10-inch cable line under the Peconic Bay to Shelter Island. While the energy company — which is building the project on behalf of the Long Island Power Authority — promised residents they would see “minimal disruptions,” outspoken critics of the idea have surfaced at public meetings to denounce the project.

Among their concerns were noise, a cash compensation some felt was too low, and worries that the PSEG project was being rushed through and would hit the same snags as a prior unrelated attempt by LIPA to run line across the bay from Southold that ended in an expensive failure.

Mr. Hubbard said those concerns will be ironed out in the contract with PSEG.

“We’re going to be on them like a dog,” he said. “Everything in the contract is going to be worded so there’s not a repeat of what [LIPA] had before.”

The work is now set to begin on Sept. 15, 2017 and wrap up by May 15, 2018, according to Mr. Hubbard. The mayor said the added time will give the village and PSEG more time to make sure residents’ concerns are addressed.

“Before they were trying to get everything rushed through to get it this year,” he said. “We finally agreed that can’t happen this year … Everybody said from the start ‘slow down, slow down.’ Well we did slow down.”

Mr. Hubbard declined to say exactly how much in total PSEG was offering the village because of the contract negotiations; a previous offer was for $1 million in cash. But Mr. Hubbard said the compensation was increased by “more than $300,000.”

“They sweetened the pot,” he said, noting that the calls for $10 million by some residents was “never going to happen.” The village has not yet determined where the money would be spent.

“Before we do all that, we need to get a contract signed,” said Village Trustee Jack Martilotta.

In addition to the cash payments, PSEG has offered to pay for the backup cable and switch, which would allow the village to quickly restore power during outages, board members said.

“The switch gear — people don’t realize this — before had to be manual,” said board member Mary Bess Phillips. “Somebody had to come down and switch it manually.” Mr. Hubbard claimed the switch could reduce a five-hour outage to as little as 15 minutes.

PSEG will also repave the roadway after construction is complete and pay for a resident on Fifth Street to serve as an ombudsman during the length of the project to watch the work and report issues to both PSEG and the Village.

During the meeting, Fifth Street resident John Winkler asked whether homeowners would be compensated if the construction work caused damage that didn’t surface until years later. Mr. Hubbard said residents would automatically be covered during construction and that the board would bring his concerns up during the contract negotiations.

Mr. Winkler said it appeared the board had done its “due diligence” on the project.

“It seems like we got a lot better deal than we started with,” he said.

However, the Village Board will not have an official say over the environmental impacts of the project. Both the village and PSEG had applied to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to be named “lead agency” on the project, meaning they would conduct state-mandated environmental reviews before any work started.

The state DEC ruled in favor of PSEG on all three criteria for the application, Mr. Hubbard said in an interview. But he was not surprised the village lost the motion; the village’s holdings represent just a quarter of the total area of the project, with other parts of the work extending into Southold Town along Main Road and across to Shelter Island.

“Seventy-five percent of it is in someone else’s jurisdiction,” he said. The Village Board will likely not appeal the decision, he added, as a show of good faith toward PSEG.

Ms. Phillips said PSEG also has an incentive to keep Greenport Village satisfied, since a failure would reflect badly for other communities.

“Once that contract is done and PSEG is here?” she said. “They want to make this an ideal situation.”

A resolution signing off on contract negotiations is set to be approved at the board’s meeting on Nov. 28.

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