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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Cuomo needs to detail LIPA privatization plan for LIers

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to Newsday's editorial board.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to Newsday's editorial board. (Feb. 14, 2013) Credit: Sam Guzik

Legislative gatherings in Albany and Hauppauge Wednesday sharpened the contrast between how Long Island residents and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are handling the issue of LIPA's future.

During a hearing in Albany, state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) noted that representatives of investment banking firm Lazard Ltd. had not been able to appear for questioning.

The firm and members of Cuomo's staff have been meeting privately with local officials, business owners and others to pitch Cuomo's plan to turn LIPA over to a private company.

The idea appears to have gained little traction in the region, possibly because precious little information about the transaction's finances has been released publicly, as speakers also pointed out Wednesday at a Suffolk committee hearing.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) pressed New York Power Authority chief Gil Quiniones in an attempt to find out when a state study on LIPA's future would be ready.

It could take months, Quiniones said, noting that NYPA, Lazard and the governor's staff still were gathering information. He said repeatedly that the state was considering options in addition to going private.

Other state lawmakers didn't do much better with former Suffolk Deputy County Executive Regina Calcaterra, now the executive director of the state's Moreland Commission.

She declined to answer a number of queries, saying that the commission, empaneled by Cuomo to investigate LIPA and other state utilities and their response to recent storms, still was working on its final report. The commission has recommended that LIPA go private.

But while state officials offered little new information, Long Islanders at both hearings asked pertinent questions and offered up plentiful ideas.

At the legislative hearing in Hauppauge, LIPA trustee Matt Cordaro pushed for LIPA to become a fully municipal utility.

In Albany, LIPA trustee Neal Lewis said a beefed-up hybrid of public and private power ought to be considered.

Shelly Sackstein, a former trustee who sits on the Suffolk Legislature's LIPA advisory board, took it further, saying that LIPA in a municipalized form should own local power plants. Cordaro disagreed in his remarks, noting that electric utilities are moving away from handling both power generation and distribution.

Assemb. Al Graf (R-Holbrook) asked why Long Islanders pay so much more per kilowatt hour than other New Yorkers.

LaValle, meanwhile, managed to get one utility company to acknowledge that the state has approached it to gauge interest in buying LIPA.

Sackstein said a new coalition of civic and other groups that oppose privatization soon would schedule public hearings on Long Island.

Edward P. Romaine, Brookhaven's town supervisor, also entered the fray Wednesday. He wants Cuomo to drop tax challenges that LIPA has filed against Brookhaven over the Port Jefferson power plant.

Long Islanders have opened the doors to ideas about LIPA. That's good. But it's long past time that residents hear more from Cuomo and the state.

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