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LIPA chief: There's 'room for improvement'

Work crews restore power on Fowler Avenue in

Work crews restore power on Fowler Avenue in Valley Stream, Thursday. (March 18, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

With the repair bill for last Saturday's nor'easter likely to exceed $20 million, the Long Island Power Authority hailed the return to "system normal" Thursday, though for some affected ratepayers' anger lingered.

"Heaven help us if we get a real hurricane," said Ed Muro, whose 70-year-old mother sat in a cold North Woodmere home until Wednesday night, when a Kentucky-based crew arrived to restore power.

As of 8 last night, just more than 760 Long Island customers remained without power.

LIPA chief Kevin Law said he was "proud of our crews" but conceded LIPA could have better alerted customers on the restoration progress and promised "We will work on that."

"Is there room for improvement? Of course there is," Law said at a briefing Thursday.

Customer Scott Russell of East Rockaway can attest to the need. "They did a poor job," said Russell, an importer who said he sat four days in a 45-degree home with a sick child.

In numerous calls to LIPA, he said, "I got answers that ranged from, 'We have no idea when it will be restored,' to, 'Expect it within 24 hours,' which was not correct, to, 'We do not have anyone scheduled.' I'm just like, seriously?"

Matthew Cordaro, a former Long Island Lighting Co. executive who coordinated that company's storm-response overhaul after Hurricane Gloria in 1985, said National Grid, which runs the infrastructure for LIPA, needs a larger, better-trained, in-house staff to more quickly respond to storm outages.

The company employs 192 staff linemen, 108 single-truck service workers, 114 underground mechanics and 16 apprentices. LILCO in 1989 reported a dedicated response crew of 740, with another 425 staffers who doubled as electric line repair crews in emergencies.

But National Grid said today's workforce is "almost identical" if its 160 contracted tree trimmers and 150 outside line contractors are included. Thousands more were called in from outside, some arriving as late as Wednesday.

"It sounds like the workforce that was thrown at this, especially early in the game, was inadequate," said Cordaro. "Most people who have fought storms are retired or have died. That makes the need to have more personnel even more critical."

Law likened the idea of hiring more in-house crews to "driving around in your car with your mechanic all the time riding with you. You just can't afford to do that."

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