Ex civic prez’s efforts lead to East Hills gas plan

Bill San Antonio

In late October 2013, East Hills resident Jana Goldenberg emailed her neighbors in the village’s Country Estates community, describing a meeting she had with National Grid of New York about converting the neighborhood’s heating services to natural gas.

Having served as a pro bono consultant to neighbors negotiating with utility companies, Goldenberg forwarded her neighbors commitment forms that required residents interested in using gas to submit to National Grid their name, address, phone number, email address and the appliance they’d be willing to convert.

Within a week, commitments began trickling into Goldenberg’s inbox and arriving at her front door, some even at the suggestion of East Hills village officials, according to emails obtained by Blank Slate Media.

Within a month, Goldenberg, now the former Country Estates civic president, said she accumulated commitments from 90 households that were willing to convert to gas.

On Dec. 7, Goldenberg attended an information session at East Hills Village Hall with Country Estates residents, Jim Madsen, of National Grid New York’s gas sales support department, and Phil Bambino, of Philip Bambino Plumbing and Heating.  

“I thought National Grid was going to take over that day,” she said. “Instead, [Madsen] said to a packed room to give the agreements to Jana.” 

In two-plus years, Goldenberg accumulated approximately 500 agreements from residents throughout the Village of East Hills, according to documents obtained by Blank Slate Media. 

During this time, she corresponded regularly via email and telephone conversations with various National Grid employees, Bambino and East Hills Superintendent of Public Works John Salerno.

Rarely, Goldenberg said, did she communicate with members of the East Hills village board, who on Sept. 3 announced at a news conference a partnership with National Grid to extend lines for the installation of gas at no cost to any resident willing to convert.

According to emails dating back to 2013, East Hills officials only began communicating with National Grid this spring, when a marketing strategy for the project’s rollout began to take shape, and often referred residential concerns about the project directly to Goldenberg.

One email, sent to a resident from Village Attorney William Burton dated Oct. 26, 2014 and forwarded to Goldenberg, reads: “Please call your civic association president, Jana Goldenberg for details. She has become an expert and is heading up gas installations in Country Estates.” 

Goldenberg was regularly kept abreast of issues National Grid faced in designing schematic diagrams of projects for each household and the village’s Public Works department handling of permit records, according to the emails.

She also notified residents of financing programs for gas installation with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

National Grid began approving Country Estates streets for gas installation in February 2014, but according to letters sent to residents, work would not begin until October, far exceeding the utility’s eight- to 10-week period for construction. 

In response, Goldenberg suggested residents file complaints of National Grid to the state Public Service Commission.

On several occasions, Goldenberg was told via email that streets would lose their approval if one or two more households were not committed to gas conversion, and National Grid later set an April 22, 2014 deadline requiring residents to complete their agreement forms to include a plumber’s involvement with the installation, according to emails.

Goldenberg sent multiple emails to Country Estates residents reminding them of the deadline, attaching a PDF copy of a commitment form to return to her.

All Country Estates residents were included on the emails, whether they had yet returned a commitment, and Goldenberg and Bambino agreed he would travel the neighborhood on April 21 to sign off on agreements.  

One residence that had not committed to gas conversion was that of East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz, Goldenberg said, but the mayor agreed to have Bambino sign a commitment form prior to the deadline.

During the village’s news conference, Koblenz thanked Goldenberg for her efforts on the project — which she said often included going door-to-door to pick up commitments and emailing neighbors and National Grid at odd hours — she was not invited to attend the news conference. 

In an email to Country Estates residents that night, Goldenberg wrote she had only been informed of the news conference that morning but was notified the project was approved that Monday and “to keep this under wraps” until National Grid’s marketing department had the authority to announce it.

Koblenz told Blank Slate Media that the village was not responsible for calling the press conference, saying, “It was very impromptu, very quick. National Grid and [state Sen.] Jack Martins came to us and said, can we make this announcement tomorrow. Two of my trustees were working. I was happy I was able to get there on time because of my own work schedule.”

But National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the utility sent a media advisory — which was not sent to the Roslyn Times — to outlets and officials at the village’s request.

“They invited us to their press conference, so they could have invited anyone they wanted to,” she said. “We were there on their behalf.”

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