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Opinion

Huntington wants LIPA to stand down

The LIPA Power Plant in Northport on July

The LIPA Power Plant in Northport on July 1, 2019. Credit: Newsday / John Keating

Daily Point

Of power plants and pandemics

The Town of Huntington wanted the Long Island Power Authority to join the town and the Northport-East Northport School District in suspending any action in the assessment-challenge lawsuit over the Northport Power Plant until July 2022.

The plea to LIPA was that the coronavirus will financially devastate Huntington and the school district because sales tax revenues are down and state cuts to school aid could be huge. If the town and school district lose the case, it could cost Huntington as much as $650 million in refunds. Even a negotiated settlement that would gradually cut the plant’s annual tax bill approximately in half over seven years would be painful to the school district.

But LIPA says it won’t and can’t go along with the request, not least because the parties had already essentially reached a deal before the pandemic hit. That there was a tentative deal was news to The Point. 

The power authority’s refusal to let the case drag on for two more years is based on its argument that the ratepayers have a right to relief after almost a decade of proceedings and overpayments. LIPA says the holdup is not the virus, it’s the inability of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci to get a majority of the town board to approve a deal in principle that the parties hammered out during a marathon eight-hour negotiation in February.

Several parties involved in the negotiations say the proposed framework is similar to ones already accepted by the Town of Brookhaven for the Port Jefferson plant tax reduction and Nassau County for the Glenwood Landing and Island Park E.F. Barrett plants — but slightly sweeter for Huntington and the school district. Nassau and Brookhaven have stipulations that say they’d get the better terms, too, if Huntington does, and Nassau’s deal has not been approved by the county legislature.

In an email exchange with The Point, LIPA said, “After a decade of discussions, offers, and court proceedings, settlement talks were productive and concluded in February. LIPA made its best offer, which maintains tens of millions in Northport school aid support while lowering the amount Long Islanders pay for the aging Northport power plant — the highest taxed property in America. The Town Board did not approve the outcome of those discussions. It is their right to have the court — an independent third party — determine the fair level of taxes that Long Islanders should pay for the plant and LIPA will abide by that decision.” Note, the statement is putting the burden for not closing on a deal on the town board.

Northport residents who want to  fight LIPA to the death have argued that a court decision that devastates Huntington and the school district would be a political disaster for LIPA and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, and somehow won’t be allowed to go into effect.

That’s not a theory Cuomo or LIPA has ever validated, and it’s not one that Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran or even Lupinacci has been eager to test. It’s an even riskier proposition now to believe that an essentially bankrupt state would prioritize bailing out an affluent town and school district that failed to accept a negotiated settlement.  

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Island Harvest works to keep up with demand

The economic crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic has become a food crisis for many people around the country and on Long Island, and area food banks have been trying to meet burgeoning demand.

Island Harvest, for example, did a food distribution last week in Hempstead and nearly 1,300 families showed up, according to president and chief executive Randi Shubin Dresner – 800 walkers and more than 400 cars. On Monday, the group was in Uniondale and 850 families turned out, split roughly evenly between walkers and cars.

In the beginning of the crisis, Shubin Dresner told The Point, “not as many people needed food then as three, four weeks down the road,” referring to the massive number of people laid off from jobs. “We were OK in the beginning. The scaling-up was hard to anticipate. How many people would need help from food banks? We came to a point where the scale is huge now.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that demand for help from food banks has increased 40% on Long Island since the start of the crisis, and 100% in New York City. Shubin Dresner said the $25 million the governor announced in emergency funding for food banks will help, as will $3 billion the federal government recently committed to purchase fresh produce, dairy and meat for food banks and other nonprofits serving hungry Americans. 

Shubin Dresner has been ramping up her operation via new donated warehouses and heavy equipment to move pallets of food, and has been cautiously welcoming back some of the network’s 12,000 registered volunteers who have been pre-screened to work with the public, now that Island Harvest has been able to procure an adequate supply of masks, gloves and sanitizer. The group welcomes donations of food or money; several people have created crowdfunding pages to raise funds.

“It takes time to get it together,” she said. “We’re only eight weeks into this, it happened fast.”

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Pencil Point

Just keep smiling ...

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Final Point

LIBI wants to get back to work

As Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has prepared a reopening plan, he has focused on a regional strategy that often combines Long Island with New York City.

But Long Island builders hope that for construction, the city and the two counties won’t be treated the same.

Long Island Builders Institute chief executive Mitch Pally told The Point Tuesday that he is hoping Nassau and Suffolk construction projects can restart on May 15, as opposed to waiting for New York City’s construction industry to be ready, which is expected to take longer. 

Pally noted that LIBI and other advocates have developed protocols to keep construction workers safe, including staggering shifts, enforcing social distancing and acquiring adequate personal protection equipment.

Long Island’s construction sites, he noted, are generally more spread out than those in New York City, making social distancing easier. In many cases, a project involves only a single home, and even when it’s a mixed-use or multi-family development, it’s usually not on a small plot of land. And Long Island lacks New York City’s high rises that might come with additional challenges.

In focusing on regional decision-making, Cuomo has noted concerns that people in one area that is closed would flock to another that is open. Pally noted that construction doesn't involve customers, or any reason to attract those from outside the area.

“We fully understand the regional approach and agree with it,” Pally said. “We think there should be a next step of the analysis — a demographic approach where it’s about what’s being built and how it’s being built.”

Pally has reached out to both Nassau and Suffolk counties to discuss the issue. He said he has a list of dozens of key projects that he hopes to see restarted, but noted that even single-family home construction will help move the Island forward.

Then there are the larger efforts that are key to Long Island’s comeback, ranging from luxury condominiums to affordable housing and downtown revitalization efforts. Among them: Beechwood’s Country Pointe Plainview and the next phase of Wyandanch Rising.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

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