POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Late Tuesday afternoon boxes were scattered around the home of Pound Ridge residents Harold and Millie Mendelson, and reams of correspondence and legal documents were piled high on the coffee table in the living room.
“Excuse the mess,” Millie Mendelson said as she wound her way through the clutter. “We are in the process of moving.”
The Mendelsons believe their six-bedroom home, nestled on 6 acres of bucolic land, complete with swimming pool and guest cottage, is no longer habitable.
They say that stray voltage from a nearby New York State Electric & Gas substation and power lines has made the house a dangerous place to live, and they have filed a $2.3 million lawsuit against the utility company.
Millie Mendelson said the problem began to manifest itself in the early ’90s.
“I was in the swimming pool and started feeling this buzzing sensation on my body,” Mendelson said. “At first I thought it was the chlorine, but then I got knocked back by the voltage. My heart was racing and got out of that pool so quick.”
The Mendelsons called an electrician, who came to the house and threw the main switch, cutting off all electricity to the house. But when the electrician used a meter to take measurements, he got a surprise.
“The voltage was still there,” Mendelson said. “We called NYSEG and all they did was deny, deny, deny that there was any problem. They sent a team of engineers, but not one of them would put their hands in the pool. The thing was, though, they had no one on their staff who was considered an expert in stray voltage.”
The Mendelsons and NYSEG agreed to bring in an expert who would act as a neutral party to investigate the situation. They chose Gerald Bodman, a professor at the University of Nebraska.
“[NYSEG] vetted him and noted his resume was very extensive and they accepted him,” Mendleson said.
Bodman wrote a 28-page report, which Mendelson said cited “stray voltage trespass” from NYSEG’s grounding systems, poles and lines.
The stray voltage, often called “dirty electricity,” was also causing trouble for the Mendelsons’ pets. Their horses were behaving oddly, Mendelson said, kicking wildly – breaking Hal Mendelson’s leg and his daughter’s clavicle. One of the horses developed a tumor. Their dog chewed its legs incessantly until the vet had to put it down, and all their cats ran away.
“We gave the horses away, and the people who we gave them to said they were fine,” Mendelson said. “Once they got off the property, they were acting perfectly normal.”
Mendelson said that she and her husband have to be careful around the house to avoid shocks from touching pipes and faucets. They wear rubber boots in the shower.
Eventually, NYSEG installed two blockers on the poles outside the house – devices designed to absorb excessive voltage and then sound an alarm if their capacity is exceeded. Mendelson said the alarm rang incessantly, so often that the neighbors complained and one of them eventually moved. Then one day they stopped sounding.
Mendelson said that’s because NYSEG workers shut them off. NYSEG workers, she said, were supposed to come and regularly maintain the blockers. The utility offered her documents that detailed the work. But Mendelson said those documents were clearly falsified and she has hired an expert to confirm it.
For a while, the problem seemed to go away, Mendelson said, but in 2009 it reared its head once again. She said she approached the Town Board and asked for help but none was forthcoming.
Meanwhile, her 76-year-old husband, a psychiatrist, continues to work in an effort to pay for their impending move.
What the Mendelsons want to happen is to for NYSEG to buy their land for $2.3 million, the amount they are seeking in the lawsuit, so they can find a permanent new home. The impending move to a house in South Salem is a temporary measure. The lawsuit also calls for punitive damages, which they’re leaving for the court to determine.
Westchester County Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) said he is outraged at the situation.
“We are gathering all the pertinent info now, but it’s atrocious that NYSEG hasn’t taken responsibility for this,” Harckham said. “We will see what action we can take, including referring this to the Public Service Commission. We’ll have to let the legal battle play out in court, but this is outrageous.”
Meanwhile, Mendelson said she won’t drop the issue until it has been resolved.
“We were very naïve,” she said. “We didn’t think the utility company could do something like this.”
NYSEG officials have said they can’t comment on the situation because it is in litigation. Pound Ridge Supervisor Gary Warshauer also declined to comment.
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