Preliminary — and perhaps illegal — construction on an electric cable between New Haven and Long Island, N.Y., may have already begun, but local leaders hope to halt the project.

On Wednesday, just yards from the cable’s potential New Haven terminal station, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal held a press conference to voice their opposition to Cross-Sound Cable Co.’s 24-mile electric cable.

“There are critical interests at stake for the environment, the consumer, the harbor and others,” Blumenthal said.

On Jan. 3, the Connecticut Siting Council unanimously approved the project, 8-0.

The proposed cable between New Haven and Brookhaven, N.Y., would lie 6 feet beneath the New Haven Navigation Channel, where the company said it would pose no danger to shellfish beds. The council rejected an alternate placement last March by a 7-1 vote because the cable could have harmed the shellfish.

New Haven and Blumenthal’s office jointly filed a lawsuit against the Siting Council on Feb. 14 in Superior Court in New Britain. Blumenthal said the lawsuit states that the council failed to properly consider the cable’s potential harm to the Long Island Sound, a public resource.

The lawsuit also seeks an immediate stay to halt the project. No court action has been taken yet, according to New Haven Corporation Counsel Thomas Ude.

“We are going to make the council and the council’s members eat their own words,” Blumenthal said.

Although they still need approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lay the cable, company officials felt they had permission to begin work on the seashore.

Cross-Sound Cable began installing the pilings for the cable’s converter station at the New Haven waterfront, but failed to acquire a building permit from the city. New Haven issued a cease and desist order last Friday, suspending the construction.

The cable’s planned placement in the navigation channel is particularly worrisome to local politicians because of its potential restrictiveness on the harbor’s future growth. Deepening the channel would be necessary to fully implement the state Transportation Strategy Board’s plan to reduce traffic on Interstate 95 by shifting freight from tractor-trailer trucks to feeder barges.

New Haven Harbor is currently New England’s busiest port in terms of tonnage and is a vital part of the local economy.

“This cable will compromise the ability of this harbor to do its job,” DeStefano said.

Representatives from Cross-Sound Cable have said the company would raise the cable to allow for any future dredging of the navigation channel. But the company’s hasty construction without seeking a building permit worries DeStefano.

“If we cannot get them to take a building permit out today, how can we expect them to take the interests of New Haven into account 10 years from now?” DeStefano said. “That does not speak to us of a partner that we can work with.”

Rita Bowlby, a spokeswoman for Cross-Sound Cable, attended the press conference and defended her company’s actions.

“It’s our position that we don’t need a building permit from the city,” she said. “The Siting Council supercedes the city.”

Bowlby said the structure does not qualify as a building because people will not occupy the space. She added that Cross-Sound Cable will file a building permit application with the city by today.

But Ude said there is no question that Cross-Sound Cable broke the law.

“The law is clear that if it’s a building, you need to get a building permit,” Ude said. “From the plans that we have seen, the structure has an observation deck that will be occupied.”

The cable’s opponents feel many of the points that influenced the Siting Council’s initial rejection of the project were overlooked after the cable’s path was changed.

“The most powerful arguments against this cable were made by the Siting Council itself when it rejected it last March,” Blumenthal said.

New Yorkers appear likely to benefit the most from the cable at the expense of New Englanders. Long Island energy prices are 25 percent higher than those in Connecticut, Blumenthal said. Currently, Cross-Sound Cable has a contract to transport electricity to Long Island, although the cable is technically designed to transmit in either direction.

Lawmakers hope the area’s intense opposition will convince Cross-Sound Cable to forgo the project.

“It could make Cross-Sound reconsider whether it wants to involve itself with a community that is strongly against it,” DeStefano said.

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