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News from the Supervisor


 

Press Release: Town Board Comments on NYS PSC Case Regarding O&R Right of Way Management Program

June 22, 2010

June 22, 2010

 

Town Board Comments on NYS PSC Case

Regarding O&R Right of Way Management Program

 

(New City, NY) – Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack and the Town Board are asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to replace an order that mandates area utilities cut down trees arbitrarily in Clarkstown neighborhoods.  Under the PSC rules, any ‘undesirable vegetation’, including trees, may be razed so as to clear electrical transmission lines. 

 

There are approximately 22 miles of Orange & Rockland transmission lines, comprising approximately 270 acres and traversing over 560 parcels of land, including individual homes, residential subdivisions and town parkland in Clarkstown.  In 2007, the Town was informed by O&R that the PSC’s 2005 Order in Case No. 04-E-0822 (“order”) mandates that any “undesirable vegetation” in a utility’s right of way (ROW) that in “any way encroaches into a priority zone (ie. within a transmission line ROW) shall be completely removed by each of the utilities to the floor or ground-level of the ROW.”

 

Prior to 2007, O & R had discretion terms of right of way management, and the utility routinely worked collaboratively with property owners with respect to tree trimming, removal, etc. 

 

“The policy in place prior to 2007 worked well, in that we received few, if any, constituent complaints regarding utility ROW management,” said Supervisor Alex Gromack.  “The public response to the new policy, however, was nothing short of outrage.  Entire neighborhoods, as well as two Town parks, were negatively impacted.” 

 

While most residents understood that their property was encumbered by utility easements that provided for access and trimming, Supervisor Gromack said, they were astonished that the PSC’s policy not only allowed but mandated the clear cutting of enormous swaths of land.  Many, including the Town Board, questioned whether the PSC had conducted a sufficient environmental review of its action.  The Town did not receive any notification or opportunity to comment prior to the issuance of the Order.

 

The PSC prepared a Short Form Environmental Assessment Form, and concluded that the action would have no significant environmental impacts.  However, state law provides that projects or actions which involve the physical alteration of 10 acres are Type I actions under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).  Type I actions carry the presumption that the action is likely to have an adverse environmental impact and generally require the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.  Clearly, the Order involves the physical alteration of more than 10 acres (indeed, over 270 acres are impacted in Clarkstown alone) and is precisely the type of action for which an Environmental Impact Statement should have been prepared.

 

Recently, the PSC sent a notice of invitation asking for public comments on nine environmental impacts after the order was issued many months ago. 

 

“Asking ratepayers, property owners and municipalities to comment on these very important issues after the order has been issued, and outside of the SEQRA review process, is improper,” said Supervisor Gromack.  “In fact, the identification of these potential environmental impacts five years after the order was issued only underscores the inadequacy of the original SEQRA review.”

 

The Town Board sent the attached letter requesting that the Order be repealed and that a full environmental impact statement be prepared in connection with the action.  In addition, the Town requests that each community though which transmission lines pass, property owners whose property is encumbered by utility easements, and O&R ratepayers be included in the process as interested parties.

 

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