LIPA agrees to re-open negotiations for Suffolk County trail

Trail development is tough work. No one ever said it was easy, but there are some hurdles that are so frustratingly difficult to overcome that they can stop a project dead in its tracks even when there’s overwhelming agreement on the value of a trail project. One such hurdle, and a common one, is coming to an agreement with a utility company for use of a corridor.

The Port Jefferson Wading River  trail is a proposed multi-use trail along 13-miles of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) right of way.  Suffolk County and LIPA had worked out a 25-year lease agreement and liability coverage to allow the county to construct and maintain the trail and nearly $10 million dollars in Federal Funding was secured for the project. Things were looking good until LIPA demanded there be a reversionary clause in the lease that allowed the utility to break the lease at any time they felt it was necessary.

A deadlock ensued. Federal law prohibits funding the project with reversionary clauses in the lease agreement – and for good reason. What taxpayer would be pleased to hear a utility revoked use of a trail after a $10 million dollars was spent to build the trail? The Federal Highway Administration is prohibited by law from paying for projects not guaranteed to remain in place for at least 20 years.

After months of negotiations the project seemed doomed until pressure by the county, elected officials, and inquiries by the Long Island newspaper Newsday, seemed to have broken the logjam, if even just a little. LIPA has agreed to re-open negotiations with the county and Federal Highways.  The Port Jefferson to Wading River Trail could finally be a reality.

This type of impasse is not uncommon, sadly. There are several trail projects around the state of NY in limbo over Utility lease deadlocks. The Kinderhook – Stockport – Stuyvesant trail in Columbia county, and the Ramapo River Greenway trail in Rockland County are two such examples. Perhaps the Port Jefferson – Wading River trail success will translate into future successful negotiations for these trails, too.

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3 Responses to LIPA agrees to re-open negotiations for Suffolk County trail

  1. Walt Daniels says:

    The Trail Conference has no end of problems with utilities. Typically they want us (no significant net worth) to indemnify them (huge net worth). NPS has been negotiating with NYC DEP about the Appalachian Trail crossing the Catskill Aqueduct just north of Graymoor for more than 20 years. This is 50 foot ROW with the aqueduct hundreds of feet below the trail. Interestingly Algonquin Gas allows hiking use of their ROW (at least in Yorktown). Con Ed has security concerns about trails under their towers – afraid a hiker will blow up the towers. But yet there are 10s of thousands of home owners that back up to their corridor. The bridge authority for the Bear Mt. Bridge was requiring hikers packs to be inspected under code orange while letting any truck to cross with no inspection. Typically rail trails get huge flack during the permitting phase because of the fear that robbers and rapists will sneak up on them from their backyard. Yet when the trail is finally built every one of the complainers builds an access trail to it. In virtually all of these cases, having hikers on the land makes it more secure than just having open, unmonitored land – more eyes and ears to report suspicious behavior. I would wager that the average hiker is more law abiding than the average person in general. So where do we get the bad rap and how do we fix it?

  2. Denis Byrne says:

    I certainly agree that there should be more cooperation so these trails can be built. If the utility planners and engineers work closely with the trail design engineers to make sure the paths are constructed in such a manner to avoid conflicts with potential utility expansion plans, this can work out to everyone’s liking.

    Denis

    • Denis Byrne says:

      I can update everyone a little on the Port Jefferson to Wading River trail. After finally contacting people at LIPA and US Rep. Tim Bishop’s office, but getting no responses from anyone at the county level, it appears to again be going nowhere. LIPA says it has done all it can do based on state laws, and wants the trail to move forward. In the remote chance that they have to be able to add capacity, they might someday have to build or expand a substation that might require a short trail reroute. The feds, who are funding the bulk of the project, want a guarantee that someone will indeed perform any needed reroutes due to utility expansions, and the entity building and maintaining the trail would have to pay for any such reroutes, however unlikely they may be. The county supposedly does not want to pay for any such possible reroutes, but no one at the county level in the Levy administration will respond to my inquiries so we are left guessing what is going on. We also have not been able to get any responses from the new county executive-elect Steve Bellone. Since the federal funds were supposed to expire long ago but were extended twice already, I am not optimistic about this project anymore and expect the $10 million to be lost. It was extended under the concept that negotiations were ongoing and close to an agreement, but we can’t even get them to agree to meet anymore.

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