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Letters: Superstorm Sandy reminds us of Long Island's vulnerability

Ransom Beach in Bayville is completely submerged as

Ransom Beach in Bayville is completely submerged as waves from Hurricane Sandy pummel the North Shore of Long Island Monday. (October 29, 2012) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

When does New York get things right?

If the gasoline stations were required to have backup generators, then gas would be less of a problem. What good is having gas if you can't pump it? Maybe New York State should think outside the box?

New York last year had Irene and this year Sandy, next year who knows what? If a country like Holland, which is below sea level, can deal with water, how come New York can't? It doesn't take a genius to follow Holland and adapt what they do to our own situation.

I am very disappointed about the cleanup and getting power restored, and I think most citizens agree. Did you know that Frank Petrone, town supervisor of Huntington, wanted to have the Huntington workforce work with LIPA, to no avail? It seems Petrone is the only one on the ball.

If New York State would require all gas stations to have backup generators as a requirement and take action like what has been done in Holland, then maybe it could be a leader in securing more business.

Michael Herman, Huntington

A letter writer's plan to reduce the gas lines by raising the price to $5.50 a gallon is truly a stroke of genius ["Leadership and gas lines," Nov. 11].

And his harking back to 301 AD for support of his position clearly demonstrates his knowledge of the distant past.

I'd bet 10 gallons of unleaded regular, though, that he doesn't know much about driving a 12-year-old car 80 or more miles a day between home and the one or two jobs many Long Islanders must work to support a spouse, a couple of kids and maybe an aged or disabled parent -- or two or three or four.

High prices do not "ration the scarce gas to those who value it most highly." They reserve it to those who can afford to pay exorbitant prices -- quite possibly with a company credit card.

Raising the prices of necessities beyond the reach of the common person: Take a giant leap into the 1700s, and see how well that worked out for the French.

I do not drive a 12-year-old car, work two jobs or support an extended family. But I can empathize with those of us who do.

Bryan E. Reilly, Coram

You have done many excellent investigative stories on the LIRR, but there is one more issue that needs to be addressed: accountability. There is none. The LIRR has no contingency plan and is continuously caught with its pants down.

One set of delays recently was due to weather-related signal and switching problems. Why did the LIRR not have the fires set so that the switches didn't freeze? They knew that the storm was coming.

I travel on the Montauk branch, which seems to be the LIRR's stepchild. The modified schedule for us at night is a joke. Our options are a 4:10 p.m. train, and a 5:16 p.m. train. The next train after that? 7:16 p.m.

There are plenty of local trains to Babylon. Why can't they just run a train from Babylon to Patchogue or Speonk on a more regular basis?

The 5:16 p.m. train is a train to Ronkonkoma. Montauk branch people have to switch at Jamaica. It is packed to the gills. What really has me furious is that the connecting train was not held on storm night. Why? They knew that we would be delayed from Penn Station. That train originates at Jamaica. It's not like it was packed. We got to Jamaica around 6 p.m. and were told that the next train would be at 7:35 p.m. Well, that train never came, and the weather got worse.

Then, to add insult to injury, we were told around 8:30 p.m. to get on a local train to Babylon, and that there would be a train waiting to take us farther east. When we got to Babylon at 11 p.m., there were no trains, and we were told that there would be none. There were no buses or taxis either.

This is just unacceptable. I wish your paper would do a report on the lack of accountability within the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and specifically the LIRR.

Beth Moose, Islip

Having spent an hour and three quarters this morning waiting to get gas at a Nassau County station, I was taken aback when I read the Newsday article "The gas flow" [News, Nov. 7].

The story described the Holtsville terminal of Northville Industries, a major gasoline distribution point for the region. Newsday reported that an executive there said that facility was "selling about 25 percent more gasoline than normal." The executive said that a steady stream of tanker trucks was loading up with fuel.

"We're selling out our inventory every night" the executive said. Good for them, I thought. But then he went on to say that some major oil companies with contracts to fill up at Holtsville were taking more loads than usual to Brooklyn and Queens, leaving less for stations on Long Island, which normally account for most of the terminal's demand. "There's a pull from the west on our terminal," he said.

Reading between the lines, it's easy to see why we on Long Island suffered from a lack of gas. There was no shortage. The distributors were getting a higher price by selling most of it in Brooklyn and Queens. It's a question of money.

Benjamin Beekman, Woodbury

Yes, we had a storm. Yes, the gas could not be retrieved from the tanks. Yes, the supply from New Jersey was interrupted. But here is the catch: Gas is delivered at 84 octane. To make it usable, it must be 87 octane. That boost is provided by ethanol, our latest and greatest contribution for non-dependency on fossil fuel.

The power was restored, the pumps started working, mixing went on and then ... someone ran out of ethanol.

Are there no brains out there? Why was gasoline not delivered ready to use by National Guard tank trucks or military tankers?

Someone had best get on the ball and realize just what emergency preparedness means. This is Long Island, and it does not run on public transportation, it runs on cars. Unfortunately, I do not think the political establishment has a clue.

Richard M. Frauenglass, Huntington

I cheered when I read that Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick0 introduced a bill requiring gas stations to install backup equipment in case of a power failure ["After Sandy: Plan for gas pumps," News, Nov. 14].

Since the gas shortage began I wondered why stations didn't have their own backup systems. It just seemed like a good business decision.

I was shocked by the response of Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gas Retailers Association. He basically said gas retailers can't afford to do this. This thinking is narrow and selfish. He is not considering the overall cost of waiting on gas lines: lost productivity at places of work, with employees taking time to search for fuel; the value of time spent waiting on lines; the stress of seeing your fuel gauge nearing "E" because half the stations are closed.

What made the gas shortage particularly onerous was that some people needed fuel for generators that were providing heat and lighting for thousands. They couldn't get gas for their very basic needs. Is this worth it because retailers can't afford, or choose not to have, backup pumping systems? Do we really think that the expense to station owners exceeds the overall expense to the public?

Ken Weinstein, Rockville Centre

In the "forgotten zone" that is south of Merrick Road in Seaford, Day 10 dawned with no electricity and no clear communication of when an inspector would visit to clear my home to be re-energized. Even better, how does one get an inspector to one's home? The numbers for inspectors provided by local officials are continually busy, and articles in Newsday advised that inspectors would be going door to door. So one had better be home waiting for the inspector? I guess going to warming shelters was out of the question.

How is it possible that in a county with one of the highest tax rates, citizens were left in this position? How is it that LIPA's crisis management team didn't learn from Irene?

Here's my suggestion: All of LIPA's top management should have the power and heat turned off in their homes, and only restored once electricity has been restored to everyone else. Then we would all have electricity back by Day 3!

Debra M. Eannel, Seaford Harbor

It's clearly been a trying time for so many of us on Long Island. So many families are dealing with property damage and coping without power or gas. Information is so critical during times like this; without it, you feel like you no longer have control of your lives.

That said, there was one thing we could count on: Our Newsday was delivered every morning without fail throughout the worst. Without Newsday, we'd have a very hard time knowing what was going on. The information regarding whom to call and what to do to stay warm and safe has been extremely helpful, as so many of us did not have the ability to go online, watch TV or even listen to a radio.

One can only imagine that your staff was affected too, but you kept it going for the rest of us. Thank you, Newsday!

Lori Engler Ginsburg, West Islip

Can we talk? We Long Islanders, New Yorkers, Americans. We need to have a conversation that has been put off for far too long.

This storm, Sandy, has been an unmitigated disaster for Long Island and our region. A very large part of this disaster is the widespread loss of power. This conversation is not about piling on LIPA and National Grid (though they richly deserve it). It is about that conversation we have after every major storm: putting the wires underground.

After every major storm, many Long Islanders ask why we don't put the wires underground. And after every major storm, LIPA replies, because it would be too expensive. Too expensive for whom?

Would it be too expensive for all the businesses that could not function without electricity; for workers with no way to get to work; for our kids missing a week of school; or for municipalities that have to deal with protecting citizens from downed wires?

As Govs. Andrew M. Cuomo and Chris Christie and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have hinted, we are in a different era -- an era in which the proverbial 100-year storm seems to come every two to five years. They have hinted that this is climate change, and we cannot just keep patching our region back together to see it knocked apart two years later. Seawalls must be built higher, and the wires must be put underground!

We must stop looking at electricity from LIPA's point of view. We the people need to take back our country. Perhaps we need big government to help, and to build a smarter grid in the process, but the wires must go underground!

New York City figured this out 108 years ago when the trains and electrical grid went underground. Maybe it was OK to be 100 years behind the times in our thinking, but not 108. The wires must go underground!

Bruce G. Miller, Port Jefferson

Our house in Lindenhurst, like thousands of others on Long Island, was severely damaged by superstorm Sandy. We're now cleaning up and repairing that which was destroyed. We can't live in the property, but thankfully we have a place to stay that's warm and safe.

I know that everyone affected is living in the now, focused on what they need to do to just to get through the day, so that they can move on to the next day. That might mean ripping out damaged Sheetrock, flooring, insulation, wiring and hauling damaged furniture and personal property out to the street. It may even mean, for some, to just find a warm bed and food and even batteries to power a flashlight, so they can see in the dark.

Then there are our leaders and the tasks they have to undertake to get us back on the path of normalcy. I want to point out things that should be considered for the future, specifically for those who live in flood zones.

In 2001, my wife and I realized a dream of not only home ownership, but also being able to afford a house on the water. We immediately fell in love, not just with the house, but also with the waterfront lifestyle. Our children also have fallen in love with living on the water, boating to various Great South Bay coves to swim, jaunts to Fire Island and just cruising out in the bay on a lazy summer afternoon. In the 11 years, we never had damage due to flooding until last year's Irene and this year's Sandy.

Irene took out our boiler and hot water heater, which is nothing compared to what Sandy destroyed. Sandy took out our entire first floor and all of its contents. The damages last year dollar-wise were about $10,000; I haven't even figured out yet what this storm's damages will cost, but I am sure the figure will be much greater. If the house sat just another three feet higher, it would have been fine from a flood perspective.

My family and I want to stay in our home. We love our house, neighborhood, schools and lifestyle on the water. I just don't want to have to worry that every hurricane or nor'easter might put us and others like us through the same problems. Elevating our properties is now a must, but it has costs that some might find prohibitive.

FEMA's website shows a program called Flood Mitigation Assistance specifically designed to elevate homes in flood zones. Apparently, only states and local governments can apply for the program.

The purpose of this letter is to bring this information to the public's attention. Millions (dare I say billions) of dollars in damages might be avoided if properties like mine were raised high enough to avoid flood damage.

Joe Garcia, Lindenhurst

In addition to weeks in the dark freezing, many Long Islanders question why traffic lights were out for weeks without any police directing traffic? Another example of our tax dollars at work?

Stuart Sinclair, Old Bethpage

We cannot fault anyone for their anger at the power company or the government for the response and handling of this disaster. The tragedy is that it was entirely foreseeable and preventable. No, not the storm and not the sorrow of lives lost, and not the property destruction, But the untenable and unmanageable power outage.

This was a classic case of Franklin's ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It's even more maddening that unless the problem of overhead power lines is corrected, this is going to happen again and all too soon.

The power lines are an eyesore. The poles to which they are attached are a menace to the roads. The intertwining tree branches are a constant, costly, time-consuming effort to trim. We need to trench the power lines underground.

So why has a warning so obvious gone unheeded here for so long? The answer is the usual one. Sure we've been told what a logistical nightmare it is to bury the wires. But we all know that the people in charge felt it was cheaper to leave them in place.

Unfortunately, the ounce of cost to prevent outages has turned into a pound of cost to repair. Just the cost of food loss in the refrigerator from the last two storms would have significantly defrayed the cost to put the wires underground. And can we put a price on the suffering and inconvenience?

It is well into the 21st century. Underground power lines are not a novel idea. They seem to be everywhere but here. Our natural gas lines are underground already. Almost none of us had a problem with those from the storm. Could there be a better time to put an end to the 20th century nightmare of our trees meshed with overhead power lines?

Mitchell Ehrlich, Old Westbury