Good Evening
Good Evening

Editorial: LIPA's South Shore inspection folly

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during a

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during a press conference announcing a change in tactics in restoring power to the residents on the South Shore of Long Island at Babylon City Hall in Lindenhurst (Nov. 11, 2012) Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The Long Island Power Authority certainly does need a ground-up redesign, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recommended, but it does not need the U.S. military to take it over, as Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano suggested. Both remarks came Thursday in yet another round of denunciations about the utility's distressingly slow and uncommunicative response to Sandy.

But there is much to be done before we get distracted by the institutional failure of LIPA, a state authority, and the more important question of whether we can afford the billions it will cost to improve reliability.

For now, the focus must remain on getting the juice back on and avoiding another folly like the one over LIPA's surprise requirement that homes in the South Shore flood zone needed individual electrical evaluations before power could be restored.

That plan would have required legions of electrical inspectors, who are in short supply. The process would have taken weeks, if not months, to get the lights back on in undamaged properties.

Why did it take LIPA until Tuesday, a week after the storm, to make this proclamation? Where did it think the inspectors would come from? And even then, why were the details about how it would all happen so confusing? And why was a blanket inspection requirement necessary when many communities caught under it had no water damage at all?

The answer, it seems, is the lack of a master disaster plan that would have laid out a clear process and a strategy to implement. A plan that local government would have been prepared for. Instead, it was another round of chaos.

Late yesterday, LIPA canceled the inspection requirement after a major pushback from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, and the town supervisors of Islip, Babylon and Brookhaven, who earlier had offered a more sensible plan. Now county employees will work at LIPA substations to help determine which homes can have their lights back sooner. LIPA, which didn't have an emergency plan of its own, shouldn't have waited so long to listen to those who offered one.