Whenever big, multi-billion dollar construction projects get their claws into Long Island, they are always heralded with promises of eternal blessings for all of us. Remember how the Shoreham nuclear plant fiasco assured us of electric power that would be “too cheap to meter?” You may recall how the Shoreham nuclear plant died an ignoble death, owing to its hopeless price tag and the impossibility of a safe evacuation plan in the event of an accident. The whole, sordid episode took down the utility that built it (LILCO), and saddled us with the parting gift of billions in debt that, to this day, drags on the L.I. economy and every L.I. family and business.
Wall Street, big banks, insurance tycoons and holding companies, however, rake in big bucks each time we pay our PSEG electric bills. This Shoreham debt payoff was part of former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s deal to close the ill-conceived plant before it ever generated power to the public. This deal also gifted us with the Tiffany-priced Long Power Authority, now in contract with PSEG.
Well, hold onto your wallets, here comes another one. And just as with the early stages of the Shoreham saga, the fat cats on Wall Street, the big banks and law firms, the hedge funds and the rest of those masters of the universe, the “money lenders of the temple” have teamed up with the construction trade unions and land developers and have set out upon the L.I. political landscape with their best lobbying skills and shadowy handiwork.
Their baby is really two projects: a large, multi-billion dollar, unneeded power plant in Yaphank to be called “Caithness II,” and a massive, pressurized, natural gas pipeline. And in the unlikely event they fail to get their power plant, the pipeline will still make awesome profits for them at the expense of guess who.
The 750 megawatt power plant, “estimated” to cost us up to $5 billion to build, comes with a proposed “take or pay,” 30-year contract, meaning we pay not only for building it, but also for running and maintaining it past 2040, whether we use it or not, no matter what the reason might be that we don’t use it. This, in a nutshell, is their plan to rob once again the working stiffs on Long Island, with labor unions backing it – another cruel irony.
The pressurized, natural gas pipeline will be 24 inches in diameter, running from Milford, Connecticut across L.I. Sound to none other than the boarded up Shoreham plant site, then continuing south for eight miles along the William Floyd Pky to the LIE, then turning east for four more miles to Yaphank.
The Iriquois Pipeline Corp. argues in their application for permits that their project could be built in a couple of years, and will rely on private investment and partnerships to foot the bill. Right! That brings back fond memories of LIlCO shareholders and the level of financial responsibility (none) they took for the Shoreham debacle. Many Long Islanders, including many locally, may have escaped serious financial loss as LIlCO shareholders, but the Shoreham debt payoff comes out of their pockets as much as from the rest of us here on the North Fork.
Just imagine a converted, nuke-to-gas plant at Shoreham sinking into the rate base, and sinking us with it.
Back to the behind-the-scenes legwork to make the new plant and pipeline happen. There’s a disturbing, inexplicable silence among the elected folk. In fact, you can count on one hand the public officials who have shared their reaction to all this: a state senator for example from ISLIP and a couple of others. Of those very few who have had the spinal fortitude to make known their position, with the exception of Brookhaven’s supervisor, all support it. Just as mysterious is the resounding silence from the Pine Barrens Society, ever the spirited commentator on these issues, at least usually. But on this, from them not a word, not even about the decimating, permanently cleared, 100-foot wide right-of-way for the pipeline through miles of Pine Barrens and through the Carmans and Peconic Rivers.
So, on goes the Iriquois application before the State Public Service Commission and the Long Island Power Authority. The text of its application, available online, boasts of the “opportunity” for development in “eastern Suffolk,” financed by private enterprise. We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again and again, and each time, we pay, and pay, and pay and…
In addition to costing us way, way too much, there’s a bad luck streak that hits many of Long Island’s large construction projects. That’s where Shoreham nuclear dreams are joined by the Southwest Sewer District, the multi-town garbage mega-authority, and others.
Indeed, when the construction of Shoreham chugged along for years, LILCO lost control of the project. It became routine for one shift to build something up, with the next shift tearing it down, making way for the next shift to build it again. All manner of building materials, pilfered from the Shoreham plant site, found their way into countless residential and commercial building projects all over Long Island. The widespread theft, racketeering and other crimes resulted in a civil RICO conviction petitioned in a class action against LILCO by the ratepayers, who won after trial a multi-billion dollar jury verdict. This rare, legal victory for the ratepayers, however, was short-lived, as the verdict was soon reduced to token amounts by a sleepy federal judge. Too bad that verdict didn’t stick, as it could have been a major set-off to the Shoreham debt payoff thrust upon us ratepayers by Albany. And by Albany, let’s be clear, we’re talking about the politicians AND the money-lenders with their clever lobbyists. Ongoing corruption trials offer a rare glimpse into that deeply woven web of clumsy intrigue.
Greg Blass has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He has worked in the private sector as an attorney and served six terms representing the East End in the Suffolk County Legislature, where he was also presiding officer. Greg has worked as an adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College, as Greenport village attorney, as N.Y. State family court judge and as Suffolk County social services commissioner. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a member of the board of directors of several charities. A resident of Jamesport, he and his wife Barbara have two grown children.
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