More than 2,100 new workers from across the country fanned out across Long Island neighborhoods Saturday, and LIPA said as many as 150,000 more customers would have power back by this morning. But LIPA still took heat from customers, and public officials said it's taking too long.
With at least 20 school districts still planning to open Monday, the Long Island Power Authority was trying to restore electricity to hundreds of schools. Its officials also were worrying about their bottom line, as a cash crunch loomed because it is still waiting for FEMA payments to cover costs from Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) interceded, asking FEMA to release the money now.
LIPA's website showed 455,000 outages remaining as of 10 p.m. Saturday, but LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said when all the figures from Saturday are tallied, the number will be reduced by 100,000 to 150,000 by this morning. At its height after Sandy hit, LIPA reported 945,000 customers without power.
Hervey said the record 4,000 workers in the field Saturday morning were joined by another 2,100 during the day, for a total force of 6,100. And crews continue to come. He said LIPA may stop requesting new crews as of Tuesday. It expects to have 90 percent of outages restored by Wednesday, although hard-hit communities such as Port Jefferson, Brookville and St. James will take longer.
Despite the progress, some said LIPA wasn't moving fast enough.
"Too many people are still without power," Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano wrote on his Facebook page Saturday, eliciting similar views from readers. "LIPA, get your act together! This response and lack of communication with customers is shameful."
With an eye toward a Monday start of classes and Tuesday elections, workers for LIPA have been focusing efforts on restoring power to hundreds of schools and facilities.
In Suffolk County, 209 school and administration buildings of a total 643 remained without power as of Saturday morning. Some 278 school and administration buildings in Suffolk lost power at some point during the storm. Of the 69 that have been restored, 40 are school buildings.
In Nassau County, 110 school and administration buildings remained without power as of Saturday morning. There are 444 buildings in total, of which, 277 lost power at some point during the superstorm, LIPA said. About 100 of those restored since Monday are school buildings. Hervey said LIPA had restored many of those Saturday.
Meanwhile, LIPA won an ally in its effort to expedite payments expected from the Federal Emergency Management Agency from Irene more than 14 months ago.
With costs to restore power in the wake of Sandy increasing every day, LIPA could potentially face a financial strain because FEMA has yet to approve millions of dollars in expected reimbursements. The damage from Sandy is at least twice that of Irene, LIPA has said, and costs are spiraling.
In a letter to FEMA Saturday, Schumer urged the agency to expedite payments of more than $50 million so LIPA can pay its bills as more out-of-state workers arrive to help restore power.
"LIPA's ability to turn the power back on at local gas pumps during this current fuel crisis could be greatly improved by FEMA immediately approving and reimbursing LIPA's outstanding project work sheets," Schumer wrote in a letter to FEMA.
LIPA had been expecting just over $100 million in reimbursements from FEMA by this July, to help pay the more than $170 million LIPA spent responding to Tropical Storm Irene.
"This cash injection will help ensure LIPA has the resources to provide power to our local gasoline stations, so they can in turn provide fuel to this community in need," Schumer said.
LIPA has said its cash flow needs to be closely monitored because the FEMA delays come atop a summer season that produced slower sales than normal. In its September financial statement, LIPA listed a cash balance of $148 million.
LIPA has not slowed or curtailed spending because of any cash shortage, an official said, but the costs bear monitoring.
"Clearly we are looking at our cash flow here," Hervey said in response to questions earlier this week. "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."
FEMA representatives didn't respond to numerous requests seeking comment.