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Rockaways residents: We felt abandoned by LIPA

The Moreland Commission, tasked by Governor Andrew Cuomo

The Moreland Commission, tasked by Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate the response, preparation and management of NY power utility companies in the wake of Superstorm Sandy met at the Challenge Preparatory Charter School in Far Rockaway and held a public hearing. (Jan. 17, 2013) Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Residents of the Rockaways who lost power during superstorm Sandy told a state oversight panel Thursday night that they felt abandoned by the Long Island Power Authority, with one critic calling the utility's performance "almost criminal."

But not everyone was convinced that replacing LIPA with a private company is the answer.

The Moreland Commission, formed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to study and investigate LIPA's response to the Oct. 29 storm, recommended earlier this month that LIPA should be shuttered because of its dismal performance during the weather crisis.

The panel's public hearing Thursday night was one of many being held to help compile a final report on the actions of LIPA and other utilities. That report is expected in March.

"Their [LIPA's] investment is in the company's financial stability and that's the bottom line," said Dolores Orr, chairman of Community Board 14, an advisory group that represents land use and quality-of-life issues in the Rockaways in Queens.

Before the storm, Orr said, LIPA built a substation on a platform that was only 3 inches off the ground in one of the most severely affected areas. That substation was damaged by the tidal surge, contributing to the outages.

"This is unacceptable and almost criminal," she said.

Commission member the Rev. Floyd Flake, who represented the Rockaways in Congress for 11 years, joined the hearing by phone because he was unable to attend. He said LIPA's response to customers in desperate need was "tragic."

"People are suffering incredibly after this storm and are still suffering," Flake said. "We need to shine a bright spotlight on what went wrong."

Addressing the panel, he said, "We want to make sure you understand fully your purpose, and that our commitment and goal is to make sure this doesn't happen again to our community."

Hank Lori, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, didn't mince words. "LIPA's plug should be pulled permanently," he said.

But Sarah Mitchell, a Hempstead resident, questioned whether replacing LIPA with a private company is the answer. She told the panel she didn't feel all of the options had been explored.

"What we need is a company that cares about people," she said.

The meeting was held at Challenge Preparatory Charter School in Far Rockaway.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said the authority has pledged to "continue to cooperate" with the commission to "do what is in the best interest of Long Island's ratepayers."

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