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EDITORIAL: Six days later, time to review LIPA's response

So why curse the darkness when you can "chill out," as Long Island Power Authority head Kevin Law advised his powerless customers. Did you feel more mellow by the candlelight? Was the cold morning shower any help?

Law made that unfortunate comment Sunday, in response to complaints about delays in the restoration of electric service to more than 257,000 homes and businesses after the weekend's fierce late winter nor'easter. He's the one who should chill when customers legitimately ask when the lights will go back on.

By this morning, the Long Island Power Authority estimates fewer than 2,000 customers will remain without power. Six days after the storm, it's fair to estimate LIPA will have a lot of questions to answer about its operational and communications plans.

Trying to stay ahead of the mob, Law announced yesterday that he activated a major storm review panel, consisting of outside experts the authority has used in the past, to assess preparation and performance. The panel should examine whether LIPA initially misjudged the extent of the damage, allowing other regional utilities to book all the crews and contractors who could have gotten here faster. It takes more time for a bucket truck to get to Long Island from Michigan than from Pennsylvania. And would the repairs have been completed more quickly if the efforts had been better coordinated with the local governments actively involved in tree removal?

LIPA, however, doesn't need an outside panel to know that it has to greatly improve its communications with customers. Its response centers were overwhelmed during the storm, forcing many callers to deluge Nassau County's 911 emergency lines. Law is certainly right to ask people to be patient, but in this day of instant communications there should be a way to give ratepayers some certainty that their problems will be addressed and in what time frame.

 

Looking for a shore thing

The storm's damage is also taking its toll on Long Island's ocean beaches and municipal coffers. Federal and state teams are pretty sure that the region will qualify for disaster relief money, which should reimburse local governments for 75 percent of the cleanup costs. Gov. David A. Paterson should waste no time in signing off on the formal request to Washington.

But FEMA money can't be used to meet the needs of Robert Moses State Park. So we need a federal appropriation of roughly $30 million for Army Corps of Engineers dredging that would clear Fire Island Inlet and move dredged sand to Robert Moses.

The storm, on top of long-term erosion, left the beach at fields 3, 4 and 5 nonexistent at high tide. In the short term, park officials plan to use 200,000 cubic yards of sand stockpiled elsewhere in the park to replenish the beach at field 5. But the long-term solution is dredging. The inlet needs it, because the natural flow of sand has made it less navigable. The Army Corps has usually been willing to move sand from the dredging to the beach at Robert Moses. The Corps insists that the state chip in, and there's allegedly money in Albany for that.

The other hurdle is the federal appropriation. Our two senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are on the case. So is Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who's also trying to speed repairs on the damaged sea wall on the only road to Eatons Neck. Together, our delegation has to keep pushing tenaciously for the dredging appropriation.

Nature v. Congress is a mismatch, but long-term, Congress is our only hope for the beach at Robert Moses. hN

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