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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Brown: Bellone rightfully takes LIPA to task

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Saturday he

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Saturday he is bypassing LIPA's top managers and working directly with local substation coordinators to restore power to Suffolk County residents by Sunday night. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, despite early reports Saturday, did not stage a palace coup on Long Island Power Authority management.

That would have been impossible because a county can't trump a state authority; that would have been impractical because county government knows nothing about how to deploy crews, provide them a steady stream of materials or monitor the quality of their work.

What Bellone did, beginning Friday, was send county employees to LIPA substations in Suffolk -- can't say where or how many because of national security concerns -- to get information.

As a result, Bellone said in an interview, he knows how many crews are in Suffolk and where they are being deployed. He also, for the first time, has the ability to determine whether crews are being pulled away from Suffolk.

"And if LIPA decides to start sending crews back to California and the lights are not on, I can start screaming about it," he said.

Bellone decided to bypass LIPA's daily municipal briefing call from Hicksville by going directly to substations, where station managers are responsible for dispatching crews to the areas around them.

"I'm not doing any more calls," he said. "I stopped that last week."

During the calls, LIPA gives municipal officials updates and answers questions; but Bellone, like Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone did two weeks ago, complained that information officials received was general rather than specific.

With specific information, Bellone said, "I can put more pressure on LIPA to make sure crews that finish one area in Suffolk are then deployed to help get lights on in another." His goal, he said, was to pressure LIPA to restore service to as many Suffolk customers as possible by this evening.

On Saturday, hundreds of angry customers gathered outside of LIPA's headquarters; on Friday, hundreds more protested in Oceanside, as did a group in Uniondale last week.

It's getting ugly out there as more and more frustrated residents demand power back, even as LIPA announced Saturday that Suffolk's remaining outages were at 24,000 and Nassau's at 64,000.

Bellone said he supported the calls of Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Peter King (R-Seaford), and other officials for more help from the federal government. "But I didn't want to wait," he said. "We need the lights on, and then we can concentrate on getting housing and services for residents whose homes were damaged."

Bellone's move to bypass LIPA's official line of communication is one more blow to the authority.

"Information is power," Bellone said. "We weren't getting what we thought we needed."

Neither are LIPA's customers, who still say getting answers from LIPA isn't easy. "I've called the White House trying to get some answers," one woman told me Friday.

Bellone said it wasn't easy for Suffolk to get answers either.

"We had people at substations where calls came in from LIPA saying: don't give us information," Bellone said. "We went back -- with Suffolk County police officers -- to get what we needed."

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