Montauk Presses PSEG on Substation Site

A wooded area on Flamingo Avenue in Montauk is under consideration as the site of a new electrical substation. Neighbors are having none of it. Jane Bimson

Though PSEG Long Island officials insist that land has not been purchased nor a location for a new electrical substation determined, several Montauk residents appealed to the East Hampton Town Board last week to ensure that a wooded site along Flamingo Avenue would be off limits.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc reassured the public at the town board’s meeting last Thursday that a sign erected on Montauk Highway at the western end of the commercial district depicting an electrical installation on the Flamingo Avenue site was “a complete fabrication.” Residents should know that “as presented here in that photograph, that is something that no one on this town board would ever support,” he said.

The town’s comprehensive plan and local waterfront revitalization plan include the directive to relocate critical infrastructure out of harm’s way. Given the prospect of sea level rise and more extreme weather, a proposal to replace an antiquated substation that juts into Fort Pond on flood-prone Industrial Road to a site on nearby Shore Road was abandoned. PSEG Long Island is reportedly prepared to purchase adjoining lots on Flamingo Avenue that are owned by the family of the actor Ralph Macchio, 6.7 acres of land at higher elevation than the existing substation. Residents have organized against any disturbance to that site.

“The question is where is that substation going to be located,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said last Thursday, “and what’s the process going to be of figuring that out?” He asked that everyone keep an open mind “until the actual facts are presented.”

PSEG Long Island, which manages the electrical grid on behalf of the Long Island Power Authority, is planning a public information session, for which it will provide at least three weeks’ advance notice, he said, and the town board will discuss all options and evaluate any proposals “to make sure it meets community standards.” Residents have pointed out that the Flamingo Avenue proposed site is close to the Montauk Playhouse, which hosts senior citizens’ and children’s day-care programs, and is both ecologically sensitive and a historical site containing Native American artifacts. “No one should have that in their backyard,” Bonnie Brady of Montauk said of a substation. “Montauk deserves better. We need for you all to do whatever is necessary.” But the discussion was notably light on acrimony. Rather, board members and residents alike sought a collaborative effort to identify an alternative location.

“What I ask of the board, and of everyone in attendance concerned about this issue tonight, is that we commit ourselves to working together tirelessly to engineer a new, creative solution that will provide PSEG with a suitable piece of land, one with minimal disruption to the environment and to the community alike,” said Shaun De Jesus of Montauk. Instead of being forced into a least-bad choice, he said, “let’s come together as full and willing partners dedicated to do what is best, not simply for PSEG, but for Montauk and its people.” Tom Bogdan, who founded the citizens group Montauk United, showed the board a petition opposing the Flamingo Avenue site that he said had 2,500 signatures. “In the history of all your political doings in East Hampton,” he asked, “have you ever seen a mandate as large as that for one particular issue? . . . This is not a neighborhood. This is Montauk speaking to you. I feel, so far you haven’t done your best for us.” That statement, he added, was based on past achievements, citing the board’s efforts to control air traffic to and from East Hampton Airport. “You have done some fantastic things in the Town of East Hampton and stood up for people who needed help,” he said. “And far less people than 2,500!”

To a suggestion from Jim Grimes, a Montauk resident and a town trustee, that a committee be appointed to “maintain attention to the problem, but more importantly a line of communication between this town board and what’s actually going on in a moment-by-moment basis,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said that the hamlet’s citizens advisory committee had just done that. A subcommittee’s job, she said, is to identify and evaluate alternative sites for the substation.

The committee will work with the town planning staff, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, “who are great assets in terms of figuring out what available parcels there are within the area.”

Several residents proposed that the substation be built near the former Montauk landfill. “There’s a general problem with placing substations near landfills,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, “but we’ll certainly investigate. That is the first choice by the town in the comprehensive plan and the L.W.R.P.”

PSEG Long Island “has made no firm decision on siting the substation,” David Gaier, the utility’s director of communications, said in an email yesterday, nor has it acquired the Flamingo Avenue property. “We’re considering a number of options across five possible sites, and we’ll provide information on these sites and options at a future public meeting,” to be announced once a date has been set.

Mr. Gaier emphasized that “the need is real because the load on the South Fork and the East End is growing significantly year over year.”

“We are not anywhere near giving our support for a specific site,” the supervisor repeated last Thursday. “We understand, though, that another site has to be found, and we’re in the process of figuring that out.”

“Montauk is worth it,” Mr. Bogdan said of an intensified effort to find a solution agreeable to residents. “You have a choice. You could be a Montauk hero. You could show up in Montauk and everybody will buy you a drink.” The supervisor had a ready response: “Did you hear that, Montauk?” he asked.