LIPA response blasted

Dan Glaun And Richard Tedesco

Elected officials blasted the Long Island Power Authority on Tuesday for delays in restoring power lost in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and gaps in communication with government officials and the public.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano expressed dissatisfaction with LIPA’s release of information to the thousands of county residents who are still without power, saying that affected people need to know when electricity will be restored so they can decide whether to stay in darkened homes or seek alternative shelter.

“We’re as frustrated as our residents,” said Mangano at a press conference Tuesday. “Residents have a right to know if they’re not going to get their electricity in 10, 20, 30 days.”

LIPA says it has restored power to 735,000 of its more than 940,000 customers who experienced blackouts during the storm, and originally anticipated 90 percent restoration by the end of Wednesday. It revised that estimate on power restoration Wednesday afternoon as the nor’easter blew across the region to sometime this weekend, according to Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman.

Most of Mangano’s criticism centered on LIPA’s communication to the public, but he also addressed the problem of inefficient repair work.

“I get a call that we get a crew without directions… that’s the part that makes you angry,” Mangano said. “That’s what’s unacceptable.”

Magano was joined in his criticism of LIPA by Kaiman.

“The Town of North Hempstead officials including myself and all of our Councilmembers as well as all of the village mayors and trustees throughout our town remain frustrated and angered by the delays we have been facing in getting power restored to our town residents,” Kaiman said in a reverse 311 message to Town of North Hempstead residents Tuesday. “ We will continue to confront, challenge and demand that our utility do what is necessary to get this job done quickly and correctly.”

“I think there are gaps in communication all around. We’ve been in constant contact with LIPA,” Kaiman told Blank Slate Media before the 311 message was sent. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that we get the information we need, but we’ve kept the dialogue going on.”

LIPA’s spokesperson said that the power authority had improved its communication with local governments since Hurricane Irene, establishing a municipal hotline and holding regular conference calls with officials.

“There’s a whole number of ways that we reach out, and I would just add that that’s significantly different from what we did during Irene,” the spokesperson said.

More than 11,000 staff, including 7,000 electrical and tree crews, are working on the recovery overall, according to a LIPA press release.

On Wednesday, Kaiman said he had asked a LIPA representative for more specific information in its twice daily briefings with village officials, to provide updates on specific substations within municipalities.

“It’s about sharing as much information as we can,” said Kaiman, who added that village officials are dealing with increasingly frustrated residents demanding more details about their situations.

“The frustration from residents is growing to greater heights just based on the time it’s taking to bring power to different areas,” he said.

The criticism of Kaiman and Mangano echoed that of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called the authority’s response inadequate.

In Great Neck, where many residential and commercial areas are still dark and some major intersections lack functioning traffic lights, village officials questioned the resources allocated by LIPA to assist the peninsula.

The Great Neck Village Officials Association, which includes the village mayors of Kensington, Great Neck, Great Neck Plaza, Great Neck Estates, Thomaston, Lake Success, Saddle Rock, Kings Point and Russell Gardens, sent a letter to LIPA acting CEO Michael Hervey that commended the power authority for its communication with local officials but questioned the lack of visible repair crews on the peninsula.

“Both myself and Mayor David Fox, Village of Great Neck Estates, and other mayors requested more resources to our area since all of us have seen very few lineman crews working to restore power on the distribution system here in Great Neck,” wrote VOA president and Mayor of Kensington Susan Lopatkin. 

Lopatkin also called on Hervey to release more detailed information about the LIPA repair crews operating on the peninsula. Hervey told municipal officials in a conference call that 90 crews were working in Great Neck as of Monday, according to Lopatkin.

“Where are these crews?” wrote Lopatkin. “None of us or any of our DPW or other employees have seen more than one crew working in our area.

LIPA told the Great Neck News that it was actively engaged in restoring power to Great Neck

“People think that we haven’t been doing any work up there, but that’s not the case,” said a LIPA spokesperson.

LIPA’s priority since the storm has been on restoring main lines on East Shore, West Shore and Middle Neck Roads, according to the spokesperson – a situation which has led to the recovery of power for some customers but left many more in the dark as LIPA prepares to restore power to the branch lines that service residential areas.

“It leaves a lot of pockets of customers that have been passed up, if you will,” the spokesperson said.

According to LIPA, there were over 130 crews servicing the Great Neck substation on Wednesday.

Lopatkin told the Great Neck News that she recognized the severity of the crisis on harder-hit parts of Long Island, but was frustrated with the speed of power recovery. The majority of the Village of Kensington was still without electricity on Monday, she said.

“My village has not seen a single LIPA truck,” said Lopatkin. ““We feel that here, in this community… we’re not getting out fair share of LIPA resources that are allocated throughout the island.”

“We’re very thankful here in Great Neck that we were not part of the flooded areas,” she added. “However, for many villages our streets have been cleared since last Tuesday or Wednesday. Our residents are cold and our residents are upset.”

Mayor Ronald Cooper of Lake Success said he believed his village had about one third of its power restored, describing the process as “long and tedious.”

“I think the whole issue is that this storm, because of the immensity of the storm, really took everyone somewhat by surprise,” Cooper said.

The village’s electrical substations were operational, Cooper said, but were waiting on LIPA authorization before power could be restored.

“I think there’s an issue with respect to execution on the part of LIPA. It was very difficult for me to find out the timetable for when our substation would be given local control,” he said. “It was like talking to a wall at some point.”

Village of Great Neck Estates Mayor David Fox, who said that his village was still almost entirely dark, criticized communication between LIPA and local emergency response organizations.

“There is this huge frustration on the part of all of the villages addressing the lack of specific information for our constituents. It appears that middle management – the emergency management center in the county, the town – are not getting the information from the field and are not being told the information that is being told on the [LIPA] conference calls,” said Fox. “We can take bad news. We just need some news.”

Elected officials in the villages of Williston Park and East Williston were less critical of LIPA.

“I’ve been talking to LIPA,” said Village of Williston Park Mayor Paul Ehrbar last Friday. “Are things going as well as I’d like? No. But things are a lot worse elsewhere.”

Ehrbar said LIPA had answered his questions but just hadn’t been able to restore power to the village until this week.

Village of East Williston Deputy Mayor Bonnie Parente said she has found LIPA to be a helpful source of information through the storm aftermath.

“It’s not optimistic information, but it’s useful and accurate,” Parente said. “We found out that a feeder transformer from Albertson had been destroyed and they had to reroute the power because of that.”

As to LIPA’s performance in the field, she said, “It’s hard to say how well they’re doing or not.”

But she said LIPA’s “all hands-on-deck” tact of bringing in out-of town contractors “has been working.”

Village of Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss said LIPA’s initial system directing village officials to communicate information about power issues through the town was a “nightmare,” but he said communications improved on that level as the crisis progressed. Strauss said Tuesday that for the previous several days, LIPA officials had been conducting phone conferences with local officials twice daily.

“As a mayor, I don’t have a communication issue with LIPA, I have an issue with LIPA’s communication with the residents,” Strauss said.

He said residents have been getting “mixed information” from LIPA.

“The residents think that they’re forgotten. There’s got to be a better communication system for getting information to the residents,” Strauss said. 

In New Hyde Park last Friday, officials said they were frustrated about their interactions with LIPA.

“We haven’t had communication or cooperation with LIPA,” said Village of New Hyde Park Mayor Robert Lofaro at that stage. “We’re not aware of how they’re deploying their resources.”

Lofaro said village officials had been frustrated in their efforts to reach LIPA officials.

“We just need to know their plans and strategy. Not knowing at all is what’s frustrating,” Lofaro said.

New Hyde Park Mayor Daniel Petruccio called a LIPA conference call with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Barack Obama last Thursday night “farcical.”

“They’re great at sending e-mails,” Petruccio said.

Joseph Rizza, spokesman for state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) said, “The communication isn’t where we’d like it to be. They’re obviously out there working. But they haven’t been forthcoming about what’s happening.” 

Strauss said he was weighing LIPA’s latest pledge to have power restored to 90 percent of Long Island residents by Wednesday night against the presence of utility poles still down around his village.

“It’s heartbreaking. To me, it’s not enough. We should be in a different spot and we’re not,” Strauss said.  

Fox delivered praise for the Town of North Hempstead, crediting the town with helping the village’s public works building regain electricity.

“The town got us a generator,” he said. “They were phenomenal.”

Kaiman drew praise from local officials in New Hyde Park, Williston Park and East Williston for offering access to a town fuel facility on Denton Avenue in New Hyde Park to refuel vehicles.

As the nor’easter threatened more outages, Kaiman announced on Wednesday that the county and the Red Cross was setting up an overnight shelter to accommodate up to 750 people in the New Hyde Park Memorial High School. He said town buses would pick people up from comfort stations already set up at Michael J. Tully Pool in New Hyde Park, Harbor Links in Port Washington and the Community Center in Westbury.

The LIPA number to report outages or obtain updates on existing outages is 800-490-0075.

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Dan Glaun And Richard Tedesco

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