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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Freeport leads the way for LIPA on home inspections

Richard Jendzo, a senior electrical inspector, finds a

Richard Jendzo, a senior electrical inspector, finds a generator unsafely wired into a meter pan at a home on Bayview Avenue in Massapequa. (Nov. 8, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

There's a reason ratepayers from Mastic Beach to the Rockaways were stunned to learn that the Long Island Power Authority, for the first time ever, was going to require that flooded homes be inspected before electricity was restored.

Despite having -- and practicing -- an emergency storm plan monitored by the state, LIPA never considered the possibility that floodwaters could rise high enough to damage electrical boxes.

Once that happened, LIPA scrambled to find a way to safely restore electricity to buildings in badly flooded areas. It was the right -- and, yes, I am praising LIPA here -- move in the aftermath of a storm that's left nine people on Long Island dead.

The last thing Nassau and Suffolk needed was the potential of more fatalities from explosions, fires or electrocutions as a result of LIPA's blindly restoring power to severely flooded buildings.

The issue came up within LIPA after the Village of Freeport, which has its own utility, Freeport Electric, notified village residents that it intended to conduct inspections.

Mayor Andrew Hardwick could not be reached for comment Monday. But the village's communication to residents on the matter was clear.

"Unlike previous storms, Hurricane Sandy's floodwaters reached a level above many electrical box panels," according to a notice posted on the village website.

"This extensive storm damaged many electrical boxes with floodwater and corrosive salt. Power cannot be restored to any location if the electrical box panel has been exposed . . . and the box has not been repaired," the notice said.

"This creates a unique and serious risk of fire and explosion that Freeport has never faced."

As a result, the village electric department arranged to have "all" homes inspected.

Residents who already had hired a licensed electrician to inspect were asked to "please display that document on your front door or window . . . [to] allow village inspectors to focus on your neighbor's properties."

At LIPA, officials looked to the authority's emergency plan to determine their move on the matter Islandwide. They said they were surprised to see that it was not addressed.

LIPA came up with its own plan, modeled in part on Freeport's, which was communicated to residents via a public service announcement.

The problem was that many residents said they didn't hear the announcement, and that the policy did not adequately distinguish between buildings in the same communities that were flooded and those left undamaged.

At one point -- and this is where Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he decided to stop talking to LIPA management -- there was discussion of whether building owners could sign an affidavit saying their homes had not flooded. The idea did not stand.

"It was lawyers trying to come up with something that would protect LIPA," Bellone said in an interview. "It was about them rather than about residents, and that's where they lost me."

LIPA, in the ensuing confusion and anger, canceled its new inspection policy. Instead, Bellone and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano came up with their own plans to ensure the inspections get done. It was a way to speed a needed inspection process, while keeping neighborhoods and residents safe.

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