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Village eyes PSEG plan to run power cable from Greenport to Shelter Island, takes charge of environmental review

File photo: Denise Civiletti

Greenport Village Trustees, considering a request by PSEG-LI to run a power cable from Greenport to Shelter Island, last night rebuffed the utility’s move to oversee the environmental impact review of its plans. Village Trustees last night voted to declare lead agency status for the environmental quality review required by state law.

Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the lead agency coordinates the SEQR process “so that when an action is to be carried out, funded or approved by two or more agencies, a single integrated environmental review is conducted.” The lead agency is “responsible for making key SEQR determinations during the review process.”

PSEG had notified the village it was requesting lead agency status on the project. The trustees at first intended to accede to the request, according to a resolution on last night’s agenda, but after much discussion at last night’s meeting — and criticism from some residents — board members had a change of heart.

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips motioned to table the resolution and Trustee Julia Robins agreed, saying she’d like more time to look over PSEG’s plan (see below), which board members received just hours before last week’s work session.

Trustee Doug Roberts suggested that Greenport Village take on lead agency status.

“We’re the ones most affected by this — I suggest we strike the words PSEG Long Island and insert Village of Greenport,” he said. “PSEG is spending $850k in the summers to power Shelter Island — they’re the ones with a big financial risk if the environmental study comes back negative, why should they be in charge of conducting it? We have to keep the control while we have it.”

Roberts asked village attorney Joseph Prokop what the board would have to do to prevent PSEG from becoming lead agency, as they expressed interest in doing in a letter sent last week.

“The wheels have already begun turning on this since PSEG submitted notice [of desire to be lead agency] to the Village. The way to stop that would be for the board to vote to adopt lead agency status for the Village of Greenport tonight or the first week of September,” Prokop said.

When two or more agencies have a dispute over lead agency status, the State Environmental Quality Review Act allows them any of the involved agencies or the project sponsor to request the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation to designate a lead agency.

Asked whether the utility would contest the village’s declaration of lead agency status, a spokesperson for PSEG said the company is “confident that we will be able to work with the Village of Greenport on any concerns that they have regarding the SEQRA process and will continue to respect and protect the interests of the Village and its residents.

“As always, we will work closely with the Village, its residents, and the local communities along the project route, providing them with the information they seek and addressing any concerns that they may have related to the project.”

Besides overseeing environmental review, the board must decide whether or not to enter into an agreement with PSEG to allow the project to go forward.  The mayor, who said he was approached by PSEG, said he liked the project because it would have financial benefits for the village, including property taxes falling by 5 percent, infrastructure repairs and a full-width repaving of Fifth Street from the beach to Front Street, Hubbard said.

“In this day, with a 2-percent tax cap, we’ve all got projects and stuff we’d like to do. It’s hard to come up with additional funding,” Hubbard said.

The mayor also acknowledged the drawbacks of the project, including the disruption to Fifth Street residents as the road is dug up to lay the cable.

If it goes forward, the project wouldn’t begin until Oct. 31, a date Hubbard said was selected to ensure that the beach remains open through the summer season. PSEG has an incentive to complete the project quickly, since the power service would save around $850,000 in Shelter Island next summer with the new cables, Roberts pointed out.

The work would be completed during the winter, and the road repaved in April.

Several audience members stood up to express their unhappiness with the project, saying they disagreed with the way the board — in particular, the mayor — had handled things up until that point.

“You all look like a bunch of patsies,” said Ralph Edwards. “The interests of Shelter Island and Shelter Island Heights interests are being taken into consideration, but no one has reached out to me.”

Edwards, who lives in a house that would be affected by the cable-laying, emphasized the impact the project would have on his life.

“I’m willing to listen to why its a great idea for our town, but I think if you’re the town board and you’re supposed to be representing our interests, it’s important to reach out to the people who will be most affected,” he said.

William Swisky and Hubbard clashed over the mayor’s intentions with the project, which Swisky claimed were in the interests of Shelter Island, not Greenport.

“Who are you mayor for, Shelter Island or Greenport?” he asked.

“You keep saying that all I care about is Shelter Island. That’s a bunch of crap,” Hubbard said. “I’ve lived all my life in this village, I care about this village. What I’m trying to do is bring revenue in.”

Swisky didn’t seem to be satisfied with the answers he was receiving, continuing to stand at the podium for several more minutes with a variety of suggestions for the board, ranging from tabling the motion to appoint a lead agency, to hiring an attorney to investigate the legality of getting Shelter Island to pay ferry fees to Greenport.

“I don’t know who you’re hollering at at this point,” Hubbard said.

“I’m talking to the mayor of the Village of Greenport, who is letting Shelter Island do whatever they want,” Swisky said.

After much discussion, Hubbard asked the board for its consensus.

“I have a general question for the board as a whole,” Hubbard said. “I understand where everyone is coming from — is Greenport in favor of still going forward, as a board?”

Ultimately, the answer was yes and the board voted unanimously to declare itself lead agency in the review.

Correction: As originally published, this article misstated Trustee Julia Robins’ surname as well as the proposed start date of the project, which is Oct. 31, not Oct. 11.


Courtney Blasl
Courtney is a freelance photographer, videographer, web designer and writer. She is a lifelong Riverhead resident.