Jun 03, 2023

PSEG to remove more 'monster' utility poles in Eastport

PSEG Long Island’s tall steel utility poles line the southbound lane of County Route 51 near the intersection of County Route 111 in Eastport on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

PSEG Long Island will replace five more giant steel poles in Eastport with underground power lines after safety complaints and a vehicle fatality at one of them.

PSEG on Monday confirmed it will spend $7.6 million to remove the poles, some nearly 90 feet tall, on a stretch of County Road 51 in Eastport at the intersection of County Road 111.

Some residents had complained one of the poles blocked views of oncoming traffic, an official said.

Katy Tatzel, PSEG Long Island spokeswoman, said the move would "mitigate potential safety issues."

The company "is committed to the safety of our customers and employees," Tatzel said.

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The project will involve removing seven poles in all. The two largest poles will be replaced with riser poles that will accept underground transmission lines to connect with taller poles along the high-speed road.

The original $31.7 million project, completed in 2017, brought a 69,000-volt transmission line along the county road, from Riverhead to Moriches.

At the time, officials said putting the line on tall steel poles was cheaper than going underground, which they said would have cost $6 million to $9 million per mile.

Residents and public officials have been complaining about the poles for years, referring to them as "monster" poles.

“To this day I question how such large metal structures that are installed with enormous concrete bases can exist just off the shoulder of a roadway where speeds clearly reach in excess of 55 miles per hour,” Brookhaven Town Deputy Supervisor and Councilman Dan Panico told Newsday.

PSEG's initial project to install 175 poles along a seven-mile stretch of CR-51 and a business district in Eastport prompted numerous complaints and lawsuits by Brookhaven and Southampton towns.

Eventually, the utility agreed to spend $12 million to remove 31 of the poles from a mile of roadway in Eastport south of Sunrise Highway.

There have been at least two fatalities from vehicle collisions with the poles since 2018.

The first was in December 2017, when a driver hit one of the largest poles at the intersection of County Roads 51 and 111. That dented pole will be removed.

In 2020, a couple driving in an SUV struck a pole in the early morning hours of Nov. 8, killing a passenger and severely injuring the driver, according to authorities.

Of the approximately 140 poles that remain a few feet off the road on the west side of County Road 51, many are unprotected even by guardrails.

PSEG, which operates the electric grid under contract to the Long Island Power Authority, has said it has received all needed approvals for the pole project, including from Suffolk County's Department of Public Works.

Roy Reynolds, an engineer and president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, in 2020 issued a report saying the poles were "dangerously too close to the shoulder of the roadway," creating a "serious safety hazard to those using the roadway."

The report pointed to "inconsistencies" with the placement of the poles compared with standards published by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the New York State Highway Design Manual.

Reynolds noted most of the poles on County Road 51 are about 3 feet from the road shoulder and are "unprotected from vehicle crashes."

The Highway association recommends a clear zone between the poles and vehicle traffic of 26 to 32 feet.

Mark Harrington, a Newsday reporter since 1999, covers energy, wineries, Indian affairs and fisheries.

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