Town Hall Notes: Hearing set on battery storage moratorium, Supervisor appoints new deputy

A public hearing on a halt in development of battery energy storage systems in Southold has been set for Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. 

The proposed moratorium would run for 12 months to give town officials time to review criteria for such proposals.

“The town recognizes that battery energy storage system facilities are a key component to the viability and promotion of renewable energy sources, however, the technology of these systems is still in its infancy,” the resolution adopted Tuesday states.

If enacted, the moratorium would block further action on four BESS applications currently pending before the town, including a controversial proposal along a rural scenic byway in Cutchogue. Key Capture Energy of Albany hopes to build a 60-megawatt BESS facility on 27 acres along Oregon Road..

The plan has generated public concern about its location, potential environmental risks and safety issues — primarily local fire departments’ ability to respond to emergencies that might occur there. 

But officials have also acknowledged the inevitability of BESS systems amid a growing push toward net-zero emissions.

“While BESS facilities will have an important role in the future for the viability of renewable energy on a large scale, like any new technology, human and environmental impacts must be evaluated prior to land use inclusion,” Supervisor Scott Russell said in a mid-January statement urging the moratorium.

Constructing BESS facilities is part of a statewide goal to invest in and build a cleaner grid. 

The Long Island Power Authority plans to generate about 70% of electricity on Long Island via renewable sources by 2030.

As part of the yearlong review, the town may form a battery energy storage task force that would include members of the community, businesses, environmental organizations, municipal officials and those in the renewable energy and battery storage industries to create an action plan consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

Their findings will be helpful in crafting code for BESS installations relative to siting, design, safety requirements and in studying environmental impacts, including potential threats to groundwater if a spill or leaching occurs.

Other actions taken Tuesday by the Town Board include the following: 

• With 11 months left in his current term, Supervisor Scott Russell appointed Kevin Foote as deputy supervisor, effective immediately. Mr. Foote serves on the town’s police advisory committee and with the Community Outreach Implementation Working Group, which recommends improvements in community policing and adjudication.

Mr. Russell said after the meeting that Mr. Foote has served in “several vital roles” as a volunteer and praised him for fostering discussion and developing consensus. “I’ll be relying on him and his skills quite a bit this coming year,” he said.

Councilwoman Jill Doherty had served as deputy supervisor since January 2020. 

“As supervisor, he’s allowed to pick any deputy he wants,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “I guess, for his last 11 months, he chose a different person. I was honored to serve,” she added.

Mr. Russell, who was first elected supervisor in 2005, has indicated that he will not seek another term in office.

The supervisor said he replaced Ms. Doherty as deputy to enable her to focus on other town projects, including a proposed new police station and justice court and her work as chief of staff for Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead). “Jill was an excellent deputy and I was lucky to have her serve, but she has a lot on her plate,” the supervisor said.

The deputy supervisor receives an annual stipend of $3,000, according to a resolution approved at the board’s Jan. 3 organizational meeting. 

• The board set separate public hearings for Feb. 14 on purchasing two properties for preservation. The first, an eight-acre parcel on Lighthouse Road in Southold, is located across from town-owned land known locally as Hummels Pond and would be acquired for $1.3 million. The second property is a 32-acre lot on the north side of County Road 48 in Cutchogue. It’s $2.8 million purchase price would be split with Suffolk County. Both properties are targeted for protection under the town’s Community Preservation Project Plan for open space and passive recreational purposes. Funding for the purchases would come from the Community Preservation Fund, which collects a 2% tax on real estate transactions.

• Karen McLaughlin, who recently retired as director of the town’s senior center, was hired as part-time government liaison officer at a rate of $48 per hour. The position was created in 2016 and includes community outreach, economic development, developing affordable housing and grant writing, among other initiatives. Denis Noncarrow previously held the position, which has remained vacant since he was elected town clerk in 2021. Mr. Russell said he expects Ms. McLaughlin will “hit the ground running,” noting her multitude of regional contacts. “She has a record of finding grant money, identifying community needs and raising everyone’s quality of life,” he said. “Her record speaks for itself.” 

• A public hearing was set for March 14 on a proposal to rezone part of a parcel on Carroll Avenue in Peconic to permit affordable housing. The property is currently zoned Agricultural Conservation and was originally slated to be the site for Sports East, a recreational facility proposed by local developer Paul Pawlowski.

 Mr. Pawlowski announced in December that the project would not be moving forward due to current economic conditions, but said he intends to proceed with workforce housing proposed on five of the parcel’s 10 acres.