Bay Point residents on Cliff Drive are the first in Southampton Town to establish an underground utility improvement district.
The town board, with a 3-2 vote, approved a resolution allowing the Noyac residents to bury their wires. Councilwomen Julie Lofstad and Christine Preston Scalera voted against the March 26 resolution despite 14 of 18 households filing a petition stating these residents are agreeing to foot the bill, according to Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray.
She added that the petition is based on assessed value though, rather than by parcel. Eighty-one percent of the total assessed value of $23,339,900 had homeowners agreeing to undergrounding, where she said just over 50 percent approval was needed.
Nine utility poles along Long Beach Road will be buried across from homes 3 to 53 on Cliff Drive to improve reliability of electrical service during storms and improve
“It’s one of the most beautiful vistas in Noyac — a 50-foot cliff overlooking Noyac Bay — and we want to restore the beauty that’s there,” said North Haven resident Jeff Sander, who owns two properties on Cliff Drive. “It was devastating to my family when the power lines first went up.”
In October 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation brought forth by Senator Kenneth LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele enabling Southampton Town to create underground utility improvement districts.
Earlier that year, Public Service Enterprise Group officials announced improvements to the grid on the East End, including replacing wiring, poles, and switching equipment on Noyac-Long Beach Road just south of Harbor Drive. The work was funded using Federal Emergency Management Agency money. Residents like Patricia Newman, a former town board member, wanted the lines buried then, but PSEG said the FEMA funds could not be used for that.
Newman said residents are enthusiastic about completing the project, citing the best part of the deal for the town is that the homeowners are willing to pay for it.
“I’m very old, and I would like to have those lines down before I die,” she said.
Stan Cohen, whose home is 30 feet up on the cliff, said looking out windows on both floors of his home, and even when standing in his backyard, the wires are all over.
“There’s what I call ‘world-class sunsets,’ but when you try to take a photo, you have to frame it just right between the wires,” he said.
Lofstad and Preston Scalera took issue with aesthetics being the prime motivating factor to establishing the district.
“I don’t believe it’s in the public interest,” Lofstad said, citing the fourth resolve. “I believe this is in the interest of several people.”
Sander said there’s a safety aspect as well though, citing frequent power outages in an area exposed to high winds, and the poles not being far across the street from the houses if they were to come crashing down. One resident added that the utility poles are slanted and sway in the wind.
“I do believe it’s based more on the viewshed, not driving along and seeing it, which to me is more about the public benefit at large,” Preston Scalera said, adding her own power lines are buried underground and she still has power outages.
Sagaponack resident Koral Gregor spoke on behalf of her 87-year-old uncle Joseph Hennessy, who she said is against the proposal because of the associated cost.
“The poles have been there longer than I have. They don’t bother me, and I can’t afford it,” said Gregor, quoting her uncle who she said has lived on Cliff Drive for nearly 50 years. “Primarily, he does not have the funds. He survives on his pension as a former New Jersey fireman,” she added.
Neighbors offered to help Hennessy pay for his portion, according to Sander, but Gregor said her uncle takes a lot of pride in his independence. Town Attorney James Burke said a lien would be taken out on the house if he cannot pay the approximate $1421.19 per year on the maximum $420,000 bonded at four percent over a 20-year period.
“He doesn’t want charity,” Gregor said. “He’s a proud Korean War veteran. But I’m not going to put my 87-year-old uncle out on his street. We’ll make sure his taxes are paid.”
Tiffany Gavin, who’s a newcomer to the area, said it’s also a hardship for her family, saving for her home since she was 14 years old.
“We are willing to pay this money because this is our future,” she said. “It’s a valued investment we know will be returned. There is a natural beauty we’re all forgetting about in the world today. We have to protect it. We have to nurture it. We have an amazing opportunity here to make things better. We want to make it a safer, more beautiful place.”