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MedicalCompassMD
LIPA may bury wires in business districts
By Laura Weir
May 25, 2005 | 03:22 PM
The business districts in Smithtown, St. James and Kings Park may one day get a facelift if officials in the Town of Smithtown can figure out a way to have unsightly power lines buried underground, something they say would be another step in the on-going downtown revitalization of the township's hamlets.

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio recently met with representatives of the three chambers of commerce to discuss the town's options. He said he also approached representatives of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) with the idea of burying about two-and-a-half miles in total of power cables in the three hamlets.

In Smithtown, wires that run from Redwood Lane at Town Hall would be buried east along Main Street to Route 111. Wires in the business district of St. James between Woodlawn and Lake avenues and Route 25 would be buried, and in Kings Park, just over a mile of power cables between Pulaski Road and Indian Head Road would be put underground.

"Certainly, aesthetically it adds to some revitalization to our downtown business district," Vecchio said, but he added that the project faces obstacles. The town would need the cooperation of Verizon and Cablevision which own the second and third tiers in the group of power lines that run through the district. LIPA owns the third. The supervisor said the town must also seek funding contributions from federal, state and local governments.

"The idea is certainly an attractive one," said Kings Park Chamber President Charles Gardner, adding that the chamber discussed the prospect of buried power lines a couple of years ago. "It's an idea that is generally endorsed by everyone just for the obvious appearance of the town," Gardner said. "It would be much more attractive without the power lines and it's just about weighing the costs. It's very preliminary. We'll see how far we go with it."

Smithtown Chamber of Commerce President Mario Gino commended Vecchio for making the attempt to spruce up the townships' business districts, but added that burying power lines will be an onerous task.

"Every town that has them buried it does beautify the town," Gino said. "Unfortunately it's a very costly process, and it's not something that can be done within the next several years."

LIPA spokesman Michael Lowndes said that buried power lines present no danger, but have their pros and cons.

"It's a mixed bag," Lowndes said. "Clearly the benefits are, they are not subject to the wind and the elements as overhead lines are, and there is the aesthetics. However, there's a flip side. The drawback to buried lines is that when a line goes wrong, it's much more time consuming and labor intensive to find the fault, and once the fault is located, it takes a lot more time to get to the lines." He said the cost is also a major factor.

Although Vecchio stated the project in Smithtown could cost approximately $1 million per mile, LIPA estimates that putting overhead power lines underground in already built out districts can cost anywhere between $1.7 and $5.4 million per mile for distribution circuits, low wattage lines that run through most neighborhoods. Burying transmission circuits, lines that run through commercial districts and generate higher wattage, can cost up to $10.5 million per mile. "I think it would be safe to assume that in Smithtown it would be both types of power lines, since you have a great deal of commercial there," Lowndes said.

A recent LIPA study on burying power systems said that "almost all jurisdictions investigating undergrounding existing overhead systems have concluded that the cost to underground all existing systems is prohibitive." The study also found that repair of underground lines takes almost 60 percent longer than for overhead systems. But Lowndes said some repairs can take even longer. A one-hour repair on an overhead line would take more than a day for a similar repair on an underground wire, he said. The study adds that although buried lines are more reliable than overhead lines in normal weather conditions, they can still be damaged and customers can still experience power outages, which can be lengthy due to the time it takes to repair the wires.

Vecchio said he will meet again with local chamber representatives and representatives of LIPA sometime next month.

"This is all in the future and lots of problems need to be hurdled," Vecchio said. "But if we have the will, I think we can accomplish it in the next five years or sooner. It's worth the try."


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