LIPA: 30,000 may lose power in nor'easter

A LIPA Tree Clearance Crew removes downed trees

A LIPA Tree Clearance Crew removes downed trees from Sandy on Lefferts Rd. near Bayberry Ave. in Garden City. (Oct. 30, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan)

At least 30,000 customers could lose power Wednesday as a powerful nor'easter strikes the fragile shores, neighborhoods and power grids of Long Island, LIPA said Tuesday.

The grim forecast to communities slogging through the near knockout punch of superstorm Sandy last week comes as the Long Island Power Authority continued to chip away at outages Tuesday. The utility narrowed the number of customers in the dark to fewer than 171,000.

"We will have a significant number of outages from this storm," LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey said Tuesday. A nor'easter the size of the one LIPA expects would normally result in 30,000 to 50,000 outages, he said. This one could be larger, he said, given the state of Long Island's power grid.


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"We're at the mercy of the weather," Hervey said.

Many people left in the cold, meanwhile, turned up the heat on the utility and its controversial outage map.

Customers who prepared to enter their 10th day without power Wednesday were none too pleased with the utility. It wasn't just the lack of electricity or heat -- many were frustrated that LIPA's online outage map wasn't providing estimated restoration times. LIPA took its interactive map down Monday after days of customer complaints about accuracy and completeness.

"Just give me an honest answer," said Tom Wainwright of East Northport. He added that while he mistrusted the previous outage map the new one is "voodoo economics taken to an extreme."

Wainwright said he also worried about the impact of the nor'easter, and how it could push back work on his restoration. "This is going to get worse," he said.

Hervey said any new outages will get in line behind previous ones on LIPA's priority list. He also said a repaired version of the former outage-management system is due back sometime after the nor'easter moves from the area.

Hervey said LIPA also was preparing Tuesday night to re-energize a temporary substation in Long Beach and another substation in Rockaway Beach, and could begin the slow process of restoring energy on a building-by-building basis once evaluations and inspections are completed in these areas.

LIPA also received good news on the financial front Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expediting a $35 million payment to LIPA at the request of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) after Moody's Investors Service Tuesday took note of the high cost of restorations from superstorm Sandy on the authority's finances.

LIPA has waited more than a year for the reimbursements from repairs to the system following Tropical Storm Irene, which did more than $176 million in damage. But FEMA is conducting a comprehensive survey of the LIPA system that has delayed those payments.

"LIPA is finally receiving some of the overdue funding they are owed from FEMA due to a previous storm, and they must now turn around and spend every last cent of it getting the lights on for Long Island and Queens residents ASAP," Schumer said.

FEMA hasn't returned calls seeking comment, and LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said he wasn't aware of the payment.

Hervey denied persistent rumors that LIPA crews were running short of materials and that it was hampering the restoration effort. While there may have been delays in getting materials to specific job sites, Hervey said, the utility and its contractor, National Grid, were flush with materials to continue their work.

"Believe me," he said, "if I was short material I would say it."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for the first time this week took aim not just at LIPA for its restoration work but also National Grid, whose contract to manage the LIPA grid ends in 2014.

"Remember what LIPA is," Cuomo said Tuesday. "LIPA is basically a corporation that oversees the operation of the provider of the service, which is National Grid, which is a very large company. So really, we're talking about the performance of National Grid here."

And what of the performance?

"I don't believe their performance has been adequate, period. And I think they should have been more prepared and they should have been able to repair the damage faster," Cuomo said.

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