Nature Notes: Blights on the Landscape

A hideous monument

I frequently ask myself why there are so many artists plying their trade on the East End of Long Island. Yes, it’s close to the museums and major galleries in New York, but I think the main reason they are here is the setting. In other words they find the pastoral spaces, ocean and bays, bluffs and woodlands both provocative and attractive. And others I have queried said this area’s most important attribute is its ambient light.

In view of the above, one would think there would be more landscape and seascape artists, but art and artists evolve and a good many of them are into painting abstracts, sculpting, weaving, and other forms of artistic creation. And let us not omit the photographers; there are many those here as well. One can immediately understand why the environment and ambience are so important to their work.

That being said, why do we let the utility contractors, namely, PSEG and its governing body, the Long Island Power Authority, but also cellphone companies, continue to uglify a scenic scape from which our artists and citizens draw so much inspiration? Take the rural and scenic Amagansett road called Town Lane. There are farms, woods, and other attractive landscape features along most of its length. Yet, PSEG comes along and in less than two weeks’ time two years ago, erects the most unattractive, but also very toxic, string of utility poles along its entire length, even though the town’s scenic areas study six years back listed the Town Lane road area among its most scenic spots. 

Then, the same utility makes a hideous monument out of a pre-existing grid nexus next to the Amagansett train station in plain sight of the tracks and Old Stone and Montauk Highways, and tries to hide it with equally unattractive landscaping. 

Well, the same utility is at it again. Under the auspices of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they are about to improve — that is, “bolster” against future storms — the local electrical grid in parts of Sag Harbor, Quogue, Shelter Island, Noyac, and North Haven, among other places, to the tune of more than $350 million.

One of those areas to be “hardened” against storms is right around the corner from the modest house where I have lived for the last 37 years: Long Beach, a wonderful little isthmus between Sag Harbor Cove and Noyac Bay that is a gathering point not only for bathers, but also for exercisers, artists, nature lovers, shell collectors, and dog walkers.

Now, one would think that with $350 million, some of it could be used to bury electrical lines rather than string them up high on new, sturdier, treated utility poles. Burying electrical trunk lines has already paid off with respect to visiting northeasters and tropical storms. 

The electrical high tension lines that supplied Montauk for ages from that same, but smaller, substation in Amagansett and which ran high above Napeague’s marsh north of the L.I.R.R. to supply Montauk’s power needs were frequently knocked out of service by large coastal cyclones, the last of which was Hurricane Bob in 1991. The Long Island Lighting Company simply got fed up with repairing those lines and decided to bury them. In 1993 they did. 

They now run under the north shoulder of Route 27 for the many miles to Montauk and have yet to fail, even though there have been many, many severe storms since then.

Thankfully, one local governmental voice, North Haven Village Mayor Jeffrey Sander, spoke up before the work gets started, asking why PSEG hasn’t considered burying the lines along Long Beach. 

According to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele’s office, FEMA will not pay to bury the lines. 

According to The Southampton Press, the “multimillion dollar upgrades are intended to limit the number of people affected by power outages resulting from significant storms.” When is the last time someone lost his or her electricity because the wind blew down a buried power line? I bet a first grader could answer that one in a jiffy.

Every once in a while a hero in the form of a local leader, be it a mayor, supervisor, or assemblyman, appears as if from nowhere and questions an old habit or custom with a few common- sense words of wisdom. In this case it was the mayor of North Haven. Local government is still the most important form of government there is. Never let it be taken away. 

Larry Penny can be reached via email at