Groups demand public input in LIPA decision
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Union leaders, lawmakers, religious groups and a new stop-privatization coalition are demanding public hearings on the Cuomo administration plan for the Long Island Power Authority as the governor's staff prepares for a second round of local meetings.
At a union-hall gathering in Hauppauge on Monday, Don Daley, business manager of a group representing 2,600 National Grid workers, said Long Island ratepayers faced real consequences if local interests weren't represented in Albany's plans for LIPA. He pointed to the recent decision by National Grid to reject a contract to make its nonelectric workers available for storm restoration as a potential problem.
"It's critical we have hearings down here on Long Island" to address local concerns, said Daley, leader of Local 1049 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He said the union hasn't taken a stance yet on which structure for LIPA, public or private, works best.
Dozens of local lawmakers attended the meeting, including state senators and assemblymen, Suffolk legislators and town supervisors. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in January called for privatizing LIPA, but his staff has said he's open to all options. But at a public meeting on Staten Island yesterday, Cuomo said a private LIPA "makes the most sense."
He called a fully government-run LIPA "a mistake." "This is not what government does well," he said.
Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing confirmed Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, will meet with LIPA trustees on Thursday, and it was "up to them [trustees]" whether the talk would be open to the public.
In any case, Wing said, "doing public hearings is under consideration. Secretary Schwartz is also happy to meet with groups and organizations as well."
Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, said he has scheduled a meeting with Schwartz and his members for Thursday.
"There's been significant public blowback to privatization," said Ryan, who said Cuomo should consider a bankruptcy filing to relieve LIPA of its $7 billion debt.
Many local political leaders and groups have called for either making LIPA a fully public utility or improving the existing public-private model.
In an interview at the union meeting, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said he was "concerned a private model will result in higher rates." He said he plans to write Cuomo demanding public meetings on Long Island, and offered Brookhaven Town Hall as a forum for a meeting with Cuomo's staff.
Jeannie Appleman, lead organizer at Long Island Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods, said the activist group has requested meetings with Schwartz and hearings on Long Island. The group hasn't taken a position on which structure is best for LIPA, but, like the others, said ratepayers must have a say.
The group has polled its 35,000 members since superstorm Sandy, and most have had it with LIPA, said member Carol Blumenthal of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore in Plandome, a coalition member.
"We don't have all the information on which model will work," Appleman said. "We feel like the public has not been included."
The Rev. Martin Curtin, a LICAN member and assistant pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in East Patchogue, pointed to LIPA's use of handwritten work tickets and paper maps to demonstrate the need for revamping. "It's an electric company," he noted with emphasis on electric. And "it's Long Island Power, not Albany."
Lisa Tyson, executive director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, which last week joined with Action Long Island to form a coalition to oppose a privatized LIPA, said the loss of contracted workforce for future storms makes the case for a fully public LIPA.
"This is very scary," she said. "Looking at the argument about reduced workforce, it makes the case for a fully municipal utility on Long Island."
Shelly Sackstein, chairman of Action Long Island, took the fully public model further, saying LIPA should buy National Grid power plants and its natural gas operations.
With Yancey Roy