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Efforts to stop the burying of electrical cables under the Long Pond Greenbelt wetlands intensify

Sagg pond
Avanti Peters
/
Sagg Pond in Sagaponack, New York

Community groups in Sag Harbor are calling on PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Power Authority to reconsider proposed construction of an underground transmission wire.

The utility company said the most economical path for a five-mile-long power cable is under the Long Pond Greenbelt — which is considered a “critical environmental area” by Suffolk County.

Residents worry that the construction would devastate its endangered species and rare coastal ponds.

“Aside from being a part of the community that people utilize, that’s part of our everyday lives that could be shut down and more likely than not it would be ruined in some way,” said Kelly Dodds, a resident. “Aside from disturbing the wildlife, what if the water were to drain, or anything happened, it would just be a catastrophe.”

A public hearing in June attracted over 50 opposing community members, including Dobbs. Nobody spoke in favor of the proposal.

Dai Dayton, president of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, said the group of about 400 members also started a petition to oppose the project — shared by actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio — that has over 2,000 signatures.

“It was all in opposition and people came out," Dayton said. And that's difficult these days, to get a lot of people out. But they're there. And they've been writing letters. And now we have a petition online for people to sign. And we're going to just keep having everyone coming to these meetings and voice our concerns about this. The community is there and is behind us.”

Frank Quevedo, South Fork Natural History Museum’s executive director, said more research needs to be done before a project like this begins.

“My job as an environmentalist, as a leader of a nature education organization, is to speak for the natural environment,” Quevedo said. “They don't have voices. So I have a voice for them. And my voice is to stop this project."

"We don't even know what the outcome is going to be if this project moves forward, of the transmission cable creating electromagnetic fields in the ground where turtles, snakes, and other animals that live underground are going to be affected. There are no studies on this.”

If approved, the project is expected to begin in 2024.

"As there has been significant increase in demand for the electrical capacity on the eastern end of Long Island, upgrades to the transmission infrastructure are necessary," a PSEG spokesperson said.

The company said there are five alternative routes, according to its draft environmental impact review. But the majority of the alternatives include some underground routes, while another is an overhead design.

PSEG Long Island is in the public comment phase of this project as required by state environmental law. It said community concerns will be included in its final environmental review.

"All reasonable concerns will be carefully evaluated," the spokesperson said.

Kevin McAllister, the founder and CEO of Defend H20, a Sag Harbor nonprofit that protects and restores water sources on Long Island, said the study performed to scope potential risks was not detailed enough.

“The environmental impact study that was conducted really glossed over this fact; the presumption is because the drilling is beneath wetlands, that there are no impacts,” McAllister said. “So they didn't discuss it any further. But these electromagnetic fields have the potential to interfere, disrupt, and impact endangered species.”

McAllister said one of the species — the Eastern Spotted Salamander — is particularly in danger.

“It's limited to Long Islands coastal ponds, an endangered species, we don't know the affects on this field on these populations,” McAllister said.

Molly is a news fellow, working on the Long Story Short, Higher Ground, and other podcasts at WSHU.