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Activists hope to snag Long Beach power cable

As LIPA’s 65-mile power cable from New Jersey to Long Island enters the last leg of installation, the $600-million project is getting a final swat from local activists decrying its route through the center of Jones Beach and under the bicycle path of the Wantagh Parkway.

Last week, construction crews were at the beach preparing to take the cable from its four- to six-foot depths beneath the Atlantic Ocean to depths of 20- to 40 feet beneath the sands of Jones Beach. Cones surrounded a section of boardwalk that began to sag from the work and needs to be repaired.

The cable, which will provide 660 megawatts of power to Long Island when fully installed this summer – enough for 600,000 homes – traverses 14 miles on land, beginning at the central mall at Jones Beach and continuing to a converter station in New Cassel. The Long Island Power Authority last week acknowledged it has yet to finalize power agreements with suppliers at the other end of the cable, though negotiations continue.

The 500,000-volt cable will ascend to around 10 feet beneath the Jones Beach boardwalk before going to four- to six-foot depths through the Pitch-and-Putt golf course, and beside the bike path of the Wantagh Parkway.

Footing the bill

Neptune, through its $600 million contract with LIPA, has agreed to pay the Parks Department $10 million – an amount that covers easements for laying cable on state land, and a lease for 12 acres of property for the converter station at Duffy Avenue in New Cassel.

Some residents, dismayed at closure of the bike path to accommodate construction and removal of a wide swathe of vegetation, see the latest track through the center of the Jones Beach mall as an affront.

“I think it’s absolutely wrong to put it in that location,” said Walter Arnold, a director for Save Jones Beach, a group formed to fight the south shore wind farm. Expressing concerns about damage to the park, swimmer safety, exposure to electromagnetic fields and even shark attraction, he added, “They’re just dissecting the parks with things that never should have been put here. Where’s Teddy Roosevelt when you need him?”

But representatives for the contractor, Neptune Regional Transmission System, the State Parks Department, and the Public Service Commission say the concerns are not warranted.

The path through Jones Beach “really is what was discussed initially,” said Chris Hocker, vice president of planning for Neptune. “The project went through a number of years of permitting and public scrutiny.”

North Bellmore resident and environmental activist Richard Schary charged the project has cut a much larger swath of trees and shrubs along the bike path, as well as a historic roadway. But Hocker said, “Whatever may have been removed to install the cable is going to be restored.”

Arnold and Schary complained that official monitoring of the project is lacking or nonexistent. But George Gorman, regional director of the Parks Department, said engineers are keeping an eye on the work.

James Denn, a spokesman for the PSC, said that the agency has received no complaints about the Jones Beach construction work, that the cable had followed the approved route, and that “all construction work has been acceptable.”

In addition to delays that forced closure of the bike path, Gorman acknowledged that construction last week has led to sagging on the boardwalk, and backhoes and other equipment on the third hole of the golf course has led to some landscaping damage.

An eye on development

Gorman said Parks Department engineers have been monitoring the laying of the cable, and damage from construction, and may ask for additional funds to pay for repairs. He said the much-needed $10 million the department is receiving will go for Long Island parks capital projects.

One of the more surprising aspects of the project to some has been the size of a converter station that was built on little-used Parks Department land near Old Country Road and the Wantagh Parkway. A building rises 65-feet high, and intricate networks of towering electrical equipment on the site give the appearance of a small city. The station converts direct current to alternating current for use in homes and businesses.

“I don’t disagree, given the way that site used to look – essentially it was a bare patch of ground – that the building you see now with the equipment is quite a change,” Hocker said.

Perhaps a more eyebrow-raising element of the project is that LIPA, which commissioned it, has yet to finalize agreements to purchase power at the other end.

“We don’t have agreements yet,” spokesman Bert Cunningham said in an e-mail. “Negotiations are ongoing to secure the most economic power arrangement possible via the PJM grid,” which supplies wholesale power throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

By Mark Harrington
Newsday Staff Writer