Home News Greenport Village Government Fifth Street residents upset about PSEG tunnel plan, vent concerns to officials

Fifth Street residents upset about PSEG tunnel plan, vent concerns to officials

At an Aug. 31 meeting with residents, Mayor George Hubbard (right) explained that cash from the deal could go a long way to help Greenport, but that any health risks would take it off the table. File photo: Courtney Blasl.

Fifth Street residents turned out in force Wednesday night for an informal, sometimes raucous, meeting to express concern to Greenport Village officials about a PSEG plan that would disrupt their lives for three months with road construction and drilling — and, some worry, would have potential permanent health impacts on residents.

The project, which has stirred controversy at recent village trustee meetings, would lay a power cable from Fifth in Greenport to Shelter Island. See previous story.

This would disturb the residents of houses on the street, as the pavement would have to be dug up in order to lay the cable. Some residents expressed fear the construction could even force them out of their homes.

“I know someone who lived near the other cable-laying project PSEG attempted to do, and they said the noise was so bad they had to move the people because of the noise,” said one resident.

“We can include relocation in the contract,” Mayor George Hubbard agreed. “That was done that time, they paid for motels.”

“You couldn’t put me in a motel,” said William Swisky.

PSEG drew more anger when residents found PSEG employees marking their street with chalk earlier in the week.

“They’re marking the street out,” said Chris Biemiller. “I talked to the guy doing it, he said they’re in contract, he told me that.”

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Chris Biemiller says he was told by a PSEG worker the job was already in contract. Mayor Hubbard assured him this was not true. Photo: Courtney Blasl.

Hubbard said that after he’d heard about PSEG employees marking the chalk with street, he’d called PSEG corporate East End representative, who said he knew nothing about it. He reassured the residents that nothing had been signed and the project was definitely not moving forward yet.

“They’re steamrolling us,” one resident called out. “What’s to stop them from just starting to drill tomorrow?”

“The law,” Trustee Doug Roberts said. “We’d call the police and have them arrested.”

The most pressing issue of the night, however, were the long-term effects of the project.

“I wouldn’t ever move under high voltage power lines, and I wouldn’t want to live above them, either,” said Christian McShea, who lives on the street with his family. “That’s a lot of voltage to constantly be exposed to.”

“George, you need to ask whether they plan to put a transmission grade cable, maybe 69,000 volts, in one of these extra conduits in the future. We want to know about that too,” said Swisky, addressing the mayor. “The line their talking about now — it’s not a very heavy line. It’s a twisted cable, it’ll emit very little EMFs past that part of the cable. But if they put in 69,000 volts in the future, that’s an issue.”

“We will look into that immediately,” Hubbard said.

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Trustee Doug Roberts, who called the meeting, said he wanted to know exactly what residents’ concerns were before moving forward in the process. Photo: Courtney Blasl.

Roberts reminded the crowd that Greenport declared lead agency status at its last regular meeting, and is prepared to fight to remain lead agency if it comes down to it. Lead agency status puts the village in charge of conducting the environmental review, which Roberts said should offer some assurance that it will be thorough and inclusive of all the residents’ concerns expressed at the meeting.

“I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old. I plan on staying here their whole lives, so they’d be subjected to that electrical power for a long time,” McShea said. “The health risks are too great… For me, there’s no price you can put on this. It’s not worth taking the chance.”

“I understand. I have four girls, and I would never risk a child’s health,” Hubbard said. “None of us want to do anything that’s going to damage our environment or our roads, none of us want to do anything to put anyone’s health at risk. We don’t want to undersell the value of what we’re getting.”

“Even one child affected would be enough to take it off the table,” said Marissa Winkler.

“If the answer comes back that yes, there would be an impact, then it’s a done deal — that’s it,” agreed Hubbard.

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While some said there isn’t anything the village could do to make the plan palatable, others said, for the right price, it could be a good move for the village.

“We are capital poor, and we have a lot of capital projects around here that we would love to get done,” said Roberts. He listed the things that would be done with the $1.2 million plan PSEG has put forth, which would include around $700,000 cash paid directly to the village. His ideas included improving the “MTA site,” park improvements and addressing pollution issues.

Some of that money would have to be put towards a drainage issue that the village originally asked PSEG to take care of in their plan, but PSEG countered with an offer of an extra $125,000 cash to hire local contractors to do the work.

The remaining cash could go a long way, Roberts said.

“It’s still way too small of a price,” Swisky said. “It should be a million and a half, cash, just to begin with.”

“I know it may not sound like a lot, but $1.2 million is about what the Village of Greenport brings in in tax revenue each year,” Hubbard said. “When someone makes an offer like that, we have to at least look at it.

“Anything we want to put into this — dealbreakers, cutoff points, whatever — we can put into this before we move forward. That’s what we’re here to ask you, what do you want?” Hubbard said.

Though the meeting allowed residents to express their anger and frustration at the situation, it was also productive. At the end of the night, it was clear most agreed on two things: to move forward, residents want the Village of Greenport to demand more money, and to make sure any and all health risks are addressed before moving forward.

“We’ll take this all into consideration,” said Roberts, who called the meeting together. “Nothing is certain yet.”

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