Public officials and ratepayers gave a resounding "nay" to the prospect of LIPA once again becoming a private company -- something LIPA's chairman has backed and the authority is considering.

At a public hearing of the Suffolk Legislature's LIPA Oversight committee in Riverhead Monday, residents, officials and environmentalists aired their grievances against the authority, whose officials did not attend. Most focused on LIPA's current review of its future direction, including selling the public utility to a private company.

"It would be a boon to Wall Street and a tragedy for our people," said Jane Fasullo, co-chairwoman of the energy committee for Sierra Club Long Island. While she noted LIPA is ahead of other New York utilities on renewable energy and efficiency, she feared those goals would fade as a private utility. "We think this would be a disaster for Long Island," she said.

She and others said LIPA should consider full municipalization, hiring National Grid workers who now maintain the regional grid -- a concept pushed by committee co-chairman Matthew Cordaro. LIPA's contract with National Grid expires in 2013, but it must make decisions about its fate this year.

Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who pushed for the committee that held the hearing, blasted LIPA for "erroneous" storm restoration costs and for needlessly paying $100 million in sales tax. He said privatizing LIPA would be "a huge mistake." Instead, he urged LIPA to be made a "full-blown public utility."

But not all are on board. Ratepayer Paul Malik, an energy contractor, suggested putting LIPA up for auction, saying that making it a private utility would pay dividends. "I don't think the government should be in this business," he said.

While much of the talk was on LIPA's future, one ratepayer used the forum to discuss the "nightmare" she said she had experienced in getting the utility to concede it had overcharged her for a decade. Elizabeth Rizzo, who recently was told she would receive close to $8,000 in refunds, said ratepayers need a place to bring their LIPA disputes that is outside the authority.

"We were met with such arrogance," she said. "I felt I had no one to turn to and no one to speak to about this. The public feels isolated."

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