LIPA eyes Irene -- and storm response costs

This NOAA GOES-East satellite infrared image was taken

This NOAA GOES-East satellite infrared image was taken on August 24, 2011 at 1315z. (Credit: Getty Images)

The Long Island Power Authority Thursday will make critical decisions about its response to Hurricane Irene amid heightened scrutiny of its storm spending and spotty oversight.

The authority, rebuked by lawmakers and ratepayers for its costly response to nonevent Hurricane Earl last year, has been monitoring Irene since last week, and will decide whether to begin deploying local or outside crews to prepare for what could be a major hurricane.

"We understand there is heightened scrutiny," said LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird Streeter. "However, we're always going to err on the side of our customer to restore power as safely and expeditiously as possible."

LIPA, which has 1.1 million customers, has moved repair inventory to warehouses, and has been alerting employees and checking vacation schedules to make sure it has enough local crews on hand to be ready for the weekend.

LIPA trustee David Calone said the board expects LIPA to follow a more refined decision-making process for hiring outside crews, one implemented in the aftermath of last year's response to Hurricane Earl. Calone led a board probe of the response to Earl, which missed Long Island, but cost ratepayers $34 million in preparation costs.

LIPA last year spent more than $200 million responding to storms, well over its budgeted $27 million. It drew the ire of lawmakers and ratepayers after the tab for Earl became public.

Suffolk Legis. Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said he expects more accountability and efficiency from LIPA this time around.

"Last year was a free-for-all, where everyone charged what they thought they could get for the storm," he said of crews who charged LIPA high tabs for steak dinners, Mercedes transportation and alcoholic beverages. LIPA questioned $4 million in Earl costs.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who this year successfully pushed for LIPA to enforce a per diem meal policy for outside crews, said he expects LIPA to make sure workers follow it.

"LIPA needs to be aggressive in its oversight of National Grid to ensure that the new per diem and reimbursement policy is fully enforced in the event we have a storm that requires a major clean-up effort on Long Island," Schumer spokesman Mike Morey said.

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