LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg Thursday apologized to the family of Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert after the utility charged for American flags hung on utility poles to honor the slain soldier and others killed in Afghanistan.
The flags, hung on poles on Shelter Island, were hit with a $1.25 per-pole fee that LIPA said it was required to charge by a public authorities reform law. Word of the fee enraged the community, where Theinert, a native, was remembered as Joey, and public officials demanded LIPA rescind the fee.
"We want to apologize to the family of Lt. Theinert," Steinberg said, saying he and other trustees will personally pay the fee for any future plans to honor fallen troops with flag-on-pole displays.
LIPA had cited a change in the public authorities law in saying it had no choice but to charge the $5 annual fee. Spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the fee stands, but she suggested Shelter Island won't be asked to pay it.
"There has been no bill issued yet," she said last night. LIPA chief operating officer "Michael Hervey has asked for the bill to be sent directly to him." Hervey on Monday said he'd personally pay the fee for the 19 LIPA poles, amounting to about $23.
Steinberg said news of the fee had rocked the board.
"The trustees and I are all very upset about this," Steinberg said Thursday at a LIPA trustees meeting. "We do not support the idea of charging" for flags to be hung on LIPA poles, "nor do we approve of the way it was handled before it was brought to Mike Hervey's attention."
It's unclear whether LIPA has charged other municipalities to hang flags. Asked if a flag fee had been levied outside Shelter Island, Baird-Streeter Thursday night said, "At this time I do not have access to that information."
Shelter Island officials said they were contacted by a LIPA / National Grid representative last month informing them about the fee after word of the town's plans for the commemoration was aired in a local newspaper.
"This should not have happened, we did not approve of it," said Steinberg, an Army veteran. "This will not be an issue."
The annual fee is $5 per pole; the two-month Shelter Island display was prorated.
In other news at the LIPA meeting, Lynbrook ratepayer Sal Mazzaro aired his frustration over the recent discovery that he may have been mistakenly billed as commercial customers for 41 years. Mazzaro said he'd been told by the same customer sales rep for the gas firm, National Grid, and LIPA that he was eligible for only two months of refunds.
Hervey said the authority had filed an appeal of Mazzaro's case, and service reps at assured him his case would be reviewed by LIPA.