With crews dispatched Wednesday night to all remaining outages, the Long Island Power Authority has begun the process of assessing the costs and its performance in the aftermath of the region's most powerful storm since 1992.

LIPA Wednesday said it had been in contact with state and local officials about the need for disaster-area declaration, which would trigger 75 percent reimbursement of its storm costs. LIPA chief Kevin Law declined to say how much LIPA had spent on contract crews, equipment, hotels and related storm expenses, but said it will be in the many millions.

Of 9,072 customers still without power at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night, Law said most would be assigned restoration crews before the end of Wednesday, suggesting nearly all outages would be cleared by Thursday. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday night, 13,925 customers were without power in Westchester County and 16,000 in Connecticut.

LIPA on Tuesday reached out to an independent storm assessment panel to have its performance reviewed by experts outside the region. That assessment will take months.

One local official demanded answers from LIPA sooner.

The Nassau Legislature's presiding officer, Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), Wednesday sent a letter to Law criticizing his urging outage-affected residents to "chill out" on a TV program, and criticizing the utility's response to the storm.

"My concern is we have a hurricane season that will be on us any moment," said Schmitt, who demanded a hearing with LIPA in 30 days. "If this has taken so long, what is a hurricane going to be like?"

Law and others praised contractor National Grid's handling of the storm, despite criticism over the time taken to restore power in some areas.

LIPA has attributed the time needed to fix all the outages to the sheer volume of trees, poles and wires downed.

Asked at a news conference Wednesday whether LIPA would have done anything differently during the storm, Law said, "So far, no, but I'm sure we're going to come up with recommendations. Are we perfect? No."

He said LIPA prepared for the storm based on early Friday projections of 45- to 50-mph winds. "We were very prepared for exactly what was forecast," he said. "Had we had a couple of days' warning of 75-mile-per-hour force winds, then the media could have helped us preparing [customers] for a multiday outage."

Mike Hervey, LIPA's senior vice president of operations, said the authority had already staffed two other storms with the same level of personnel it had set for this nor'easter. Staffing much more, including pre-hiring outside contractors, he said, would have "a huge cost impact."

Meanwhile, storm-damaged Asharoken Avenue, the only vehicle access to northern Asharoken and Eatons Neck, reopened for two-lane traffic Wednesday night. The road will revert to a single lane at the northern end of the village during the day while the clean up continues.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said the Army Corps of Engineers' New York District has secured funding for the sea wall damage assessment, which will be completed by next week's end.

With Celeste Hadrick

and Bill Bleyer

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