LIPA, National Grid grilled on Sandy work

Michael Hervey, COO of the Long Island Power Michael Hervey, COO of the Long Island Power Authority, answers questions from Moreland Commission member Kathleen Rice at a hearing at the Touro Law Center in Central Islip. (Dec. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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Long Island Power Authority and National Grid executives were grilled Thursday night on their preparation, coordination and power restoration efforts at a hearing by a special commission investigating the response of public utilities to recent severe storms.

Benjamin Lawsky, co-chairman of the Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response, called LIPA's response to superstorm Sandy an "epic failure. People were literally and figuratively left in the dark."

Something "went tragically wrong in New York and Long Island and elsewhere," said Lawsky, the state superintendent of financial services.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a commission member, questioned outgoing LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey about the company's communication with customers, the lack of modern technology for workers in the field and inadequate customer service.

Rice said LIPA failed to warn customers and government officials that electrical inspections would be needed before flooded homes could be restored until 13 days after the Oct. 29 storm.

Hervey refused to take responsibility and blamed government leaders for the confusion. "Code enforcement is the responsibility of municipalities," he said.

Hervey, in prepared remarks, called it "understandable that the disruption to our daily lives breeds frustration even when brought about by such unprecedented events."

Privatizing LIPA, as some critics have suggested, would lead to a massive rate increase, Hervey said, adding that the process of LIPA contracting with National Grid for its field work was appropriate and doesn't need to be overhauled. "There was no fail here," he said.

Rice also jabbed at National Grid, arguing it had little incentive to perform during the storm because it would not be held to normally performance standards and all costs would be picked up LIPA.

But John Bruckner, senior vice president of U.S. electrical operations at National Grid, which will soon be replaced on the LIPA contract, argued the company has an inherent incentive to perform well and get the power restored.

"There will always be those who question and critique the storm response," he said in prepared comments. "As a practice and reflective of our dedication to continuous improvement, we routinely welcome input to improve our performance."

The comments came at the commission's second and final Long Island hearing at Touro College's Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in Central Islip.

The commission plans to give Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo a report with recommendations in time for his State of the State address on Jan. 9.

The public will be able to testify at commission public hearings on Dec. 26 at the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, 1297 Arthur Kill Rd., and on Dec. 27 at Challenge Preparatory Charter School, 365 Beach 56th St., in Queens. Both hearings start at 6 p.m.

While LIPA and National Grid officials repeatedly said they will conduct a lessons-learned process in the months ahead, none offered any specific examples of mistakes.

"None of you have been able to give one example of what you could have done differently," Rice said.

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