New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle have sponsored legislation that would permit New York State towns to create “underground utility improvement districts” by which they could enter into agreements with public utility companies to bury electric transmission and distribution lines, cable television lines, and telephone lines. Towns would also be able to negotiate with utilities to have as much as 50 percent of the additional cost of burying the lines absorbed by the utility.
“The current dispute in East Hampton over electric transmission lines is only the tip of the iceberg in a nationwide debate that relates to climate change and public utility infrastructure,” said Mr. Thiele in a release. “On Long Island, which is particularly susceptible to nor’easters, tropical storms, and hurricanes, the selective undergrounding of utility infrastructure must be part of that debate. Other states … have been at the forefront of new policies to underground utility infrastructure. In New York, the only thing we are burying is our heads in the sand.”
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the legislation was welcome. ”The Town of East Hampton and its residents have invested millions of dollars to preserve open space and residential neighborhoods,” he said. “The economic future of our community depends on its natural and manmade beauty. Large overhead transmission line projects threaten this balance and private utility companies and New York State must support burying as the first alternative, not the last.”
“It is important that not just for the current situation we are going through with the utility, but that a comprehensive approach is developed and adhered to concerning any future projects,” said East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach, Jr.
Under the new legislation, any town in New York State would have the authority to create an “underground utility improvement district,” using the same process and procedures that currently exist for the creation of other special districts such as water or sewer districts. The creation of a district would be subject to a permissive referendum.