LIPA: Cuomo threatens as 635,000 customers remain without power
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With its customers losing patience and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directly threatening its management, the Long Island Power Authority began deploying an army of line workers Thursday to repair damage that it now expects will take a full two weeks or more to complete.
Cuomo issued a written ultimatum Thursday to officials of LIPA, a state authority, and those of other top utilities in the state, including Con Edison, saying they had time to prepare for the storm, and that the state certifications of the private companies, and even their jobs, were on the line.
"I will make every change necessary to ensure it [LIPA] lives up to its public responsibility. It goes without saying that such failures would warrant the removal of the management responsible for such colossal misjudgments," the governor said.
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To the private companies like Con Edison, Cuomo wrote, "New Yorkers should not suffer because electric utilities did not reasonably prepare for this eventuality. In the context of the ongoing emergency, such a failure constitutes a breach of the public trust."
Cuomo's threat to revoke the certificates of private utility companies seemed to skirt the issue of such an action for LIPA, over which the state Public Service Commission has no jurisdiction. "LIPA is addressed separately in the letter," PSC spokesman James Denn said.
LIPA officials said late last night they expect to have power to most customers restored by Nov. 10 or 11, though it "could take an additional week or more, excluding the areas of mass devastation" to restore the limited number of remaining customers.
That's more than the seven to 10 days LIPA initially projected for outages, the worst in LIPA history. Hurricane Gloria in 1985 took 11 days to restore, while Tropical Storm Irene took a week to restore 99 percent of outages.
LIPA reported at 9:49 p.m. Thursday that 635,835 customers remained without power, down more than 300,000 from the peak of 945,000 customers without service after the storm. LIPA serves more than 1.1 million customers, including more than 30,000 in the Rockaways communities in Queens.
Calls for LIPA to mount a faster and broader response to the storm three days after it hit also came from Brookhaven and Huntington towns Thursday, even as LIPA was sending hundreds of new workers to assignments in the field.
Brookhaven Town Highway Department Superintendent John Rouse said more workers are needed and that the power authority must quickly certify trees are not interfering with wires, allowing his tree-removal crews to clear roads and neighborhoods. And an angry Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone Thursday said for three days 750 downed trees and wires have clogged streets because they could not be removed by town crews because they did not know whether the wires were still active.
Customers in some of the hardest-hit areas of Long Island, faced with cold, dark nights in the coming days, spoiled food in their powerless refrigerators and a dearth of repair trucks, joined in the chorus of criticism.
"There's wires down all over the place," said Don Polinski, a homeowner in Mastic Beach. "I don't see anybody. LIPA hasn't been around yet."
Utility officials said the pace of repairs was picking up.
"A lot of jobs have been cleared," said Michael Hervey, LIPA's chief operating officer. Thursday, he said, marked a shift in work for LIPA, with more crews fanning out to neighborhoods after days of focusing mainly on common necessities.
LIPA also was expected to make a decision soon about the 100,000 or so homes and businesses, mostly along Long Island's South Shore and the Rockaways, with such extensive damage that service cannot be restored until private contractors repair or rebuild them.
In some cases, there are no structures at all -- and these houses eventually will be removed from LIPA's work roster. For now, they remain on LIPA's outage report.
"Some of those buildings don't exist," Hervey said.
LIPA also is keeping tabs on the rising cost of restoration from Sandy. The damage is twice or more than that of 2011's Irene, which cost LIPA $176 million.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is conducting a thorough inspection of the LIPA system before fully reimbursing LIPA. To date, less than $20 million had been reimbursed from last year's storm. Hervey said he has briefed Cuomo's staff on the cost issues.
"Clearly, we're looking at our cash flow here," he said, noting that summer sales also were below budget and that the cash outlay for this storm is "very large."
"We're going to have to watch it, but we're spending what we need to spend . . . Clearly we're going to have to keep an eye on that."
LIPA Thursday began laying the groundwork for an army of workers to begin moving out across Long Island. At Brookhaven Calabro Airport, LIPA contracted with an emergency relief company to set up a small city of trailers that can house and feed 800 workers. Trucks and material for repairs also have been amassed there.
One of the trucks from that fleet of workers pulled up Thursday afternoon not far from the Saparito family of Mastic Beach. Workers were cutting down a tree that had taken down a wire. And while no electric crews showed to repair the wire, homeowner Ron Saparito was thrilled.
"This is a good thing," he said. "This is the first we've seen [of repair crews] since it happened."