Cuomo: Power restoration progress 'unacceptable'

LIPA worker Neil Williams, of LIPA's Emergency Services,

LIPA worker Neil Williams, of LIPA's Emergency Services, is on the scene along Northside Road in Yaphank Monday morning to restore power. (Nov. 5, 2012) (Credit: James Carbone)

LIPA faced continued anger from officials and Long Islanders on their eighth day without electricity as more people were connected, but about 200,000 customers remained in the dark.

The Long Island Power Authority said service had been restored to 730,000 customers since Oct. 29, from a record 945,000 without power soon after the storm passed, and that 90 percent of the remainder that are able to receive electricity would be hooked up by Wednesday night. The utility also revised its outage map after heaving criticism, removing much of its specificity and interactivity.

"Significant problems still exist," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference Monday blasting the power companies in New York, adding the outages in Nassau and Westchester "are truly terrible."


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"We have a lot more to do and we still have people in peril," he said.

Compounding the criticism against LIPA was Moody's Investors Service, which already has a negative outlook for the authority. The bond-rating agency said restoration costs for Sandy could "further weaken" the LIPA's financial condition.

LIPA still awaits full federal reimbursement for Tropical Storm Irene's damage from last year.

Chief operating officer Michael Hervey said the financial department assured him the utility has "enough cash on hand" to get through the recovery.

But whether LIPA or its leaders could withstand further ire from Cuomo will be played out after restoration is complete.

Cuomo, at a news conference Monday evening, reiterated harsh comments and threats leveled at power company executives, calling it "unacceptable" that nearly a half-million people across the state were still without power.

He also said all power companies in New York "should have been communicative."

"People should be getting information," he said. "It's one thing if you can't get the power back on."

The governor said he would bring the power companies before regulators and that the companies will have their chance to respond. "To say that I am angry, to say that I am frustrated, disappointed, would be the understatement of the decade."

Cuomo said state action could range from "sanctions to revocation of franchise."

LIPA had more good news for ratepayers, Hervey said Monday. It will waive late fees until the restoration is done.

Still, angry customers aimed their wrath at LIPA's outage website, which was later redesigned -- and at a customer service center in Hewlett.

"We want a solution," said Sharon Mor of North Woodmere, who led a group of 25 neighbors to a march on LIPA's and National Grid's customer service office, which was closed.

"We want to be heard and I'm not going to sit back and do nothing," she said.

In one new wrinkle, some 40,000 customers along the South Shore, from Moriches to Long Beach, will require inspectors from the counties and municipalities to certify their homes or businesses are able to receive electricity from LIPA. Those that don't will have their meter removed and service cut until a private electrician makes repairs.

Hervey said about 100 inspectors from Nassau and Suffolk counties, towns and villages will fan out to the customers south of Montauk Highway, Merrick Road and Atlantic Avenue. Cutting off a water-damaged electrical system by removing the meter allows LIPA to energize others nearby that were not impacted by flooding, he said.

Mastic Beach Mayor Bill Biondi said the flooding from Narrows Bay is a pressing issue.

Power was restored to areas of Wantagh, Merrick, South Merrick and South Bellmore Monday after inspectors gave the all clear, Hervey said.

"At a certain point, it became clear that this disaster was so massive in terms of the number of homes affected that LIPA just can't turn on the power in certain places that had been flooded, without having certified that it's safe," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said.

Criticism of LIPA's outage map prompted the utility to produce a new format.

It came under intense heat and skepticism Monday after ratepayers noticed outages in their area were reported to be considerably smaller than they knew to be the case.

Hervey said LIPA sharply cut back the touted capability of the map to remove most interactivity, including restoration times in specific neighborhoods, and other details of outages, because the features weren't working.

"Rather than have people question the accuracy of the numbers, we wanted to come back and put out something more meaningful," he said.

The new map shows towns and villages without power and those restored, but little more.

"It's terribly frustrating," said Margery Brown of Huntington, who has gone a week without power but whose neighborhood Monday was shown on LIPA's map to have power. "I'm terribly afraid they're going to miss me and I'm never going to have power again."

She contacted a LIPA official Monday and her power was restored by nightfall, she said.

Another problem looming is a nor'easter expected to strike on Wednesday and Thursday, with damaging winds, tides and rain.

"Wednesday is going to throw us for a loop," Hervey said.

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