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PSEG replaces steel pole damaged after crash on East End, proposes new 100-foot radio tower nearby

PSEG Long Island has replaced one of the controversial steel poles it erected on a high-speed roadway on the East End after a fatal crash damaged it in November, even as the utility proposes erecting a new 100-foot steel radio tower in a nearby location.

Unlike the 70- to 90-foot steel transmission poles, the radio communications tower would be located on a LIPA substation in Eastport, off the roadway, according to a plan provided to a resident’s group, which opposes it. PSEG said the new pole is needed to fill “coverage gaps” in communications to help in restoration.

PSEG, which operates the grid under contract to LIPA, in February said it was reviewing options to “enhance the safety” of more than 100 transmission poles on County Road 51. Some are nine feet in circumference and set in concrete foundations a few feet from the shoulder on southbound traffic lanes, which one critic said violates state and federal traffic safety guidelines and poses a safety hazard.

The November crash was the second involving the poles, which critics including Brookhaven Town said, were installed with little public notice and without regard to high-speed traffic concerns. The poles, on a heavily wooded and farmed section of County Road 51 from Eastport to Riverhead, replaced smaller wooden poles as part of PSEG’s 2017 storm-hardening and transmission-upgrade efforts.

In late May, repair trucks were seen lifting the top of the pole that was damaged from the crash, to place atop a section set in a new concrete foundation.

When the work was done, memorials and flowers placed for the woman killed in the crash were reset on the new pole’s base.

When Newsday asked questions including the cost to replace the damaged pole, PSEG spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said last week, “Safety is our number one priority” and that PSEG “continues to review and further refine options,” for making the poles on Route 51 safer, which she did not disclose.

Royal Reynolds, president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, a residents’ group, said he has long criticized the pole placement as unsafe, noting that setbacks for steel poles generally are 20 to 30 feet off such a high-speed roadway.

“I’m still upset about the danger of the poles and the negligence of putting them up there in the first place,” he said, adding PSEG should have placed the power lines underground. He disputed the company’s past claims that undergrounding the lines was more expensive than the poles — especially since PSEG, he said, had to pay $11.8 million to remove 31 of them in an Eastport business district as part of a settlement with Brookhaven and Southampton Towns.

Reynolds authored a report that alleged the company didn’t go through proper approvals in siting the poles.

More than 100 poles anchored in concrete and 70 to 90 feet tall are set just a few feet from the 55-mile-per-hour roadway, and most of the poles are not protected by a guard rail, the report said.

The first fatal crash involving the poles occurred in December 2017, when a driver, police said, struck one of the larger poles at the intersection of County Roads 51 and 111. In November, a couple in an SUV, police said, struck a pole, killing the passenger and severely injuring the driver. Chauvin would not say if PSEG faced legal liability as a result of the fatalities.

The proposed radio tower, which will be topped with a 20-foot antenna, is directly across the street from where PSEG removed 70- and 90-foot poles.

PSEG in a statement said it was meeting with local officials about the tower, which it said will speed restoration following outages. Ten such poles have already been installed across the region, with five or six more still to be placed, including in Eastport.

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