Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 16 November 2012 00:00
“LIPA has failed and has failed miserably.”
That is what Congressman Peter King said at a press conference in which elected officials called on the federal government to send resources to get the job done in turning power back on for all Long Island residents. On Friday, Nov. 8, 11 days after super storm Sandy devastated Long Island, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) reported that more than 81,000 Nassau County customers remained without power and more than 162,000 throughout Nassau and Suffolk. That was enough for King, County Executive Ed Mangano, Congressman Steve Israel, New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, to hold a press conference and ask the federal government to send the resources to do the job which LIPA has not been able to.
“Today, I along with Congressman Israel will be calling on the President of the United States to immediately harness all of the appropriate federal agencies,” said King. Among the agencies that King is calling for are FEMA, the Department of Defense, the Energy Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“LIPA’s management has become a disaster managing a disaster,” remarked Israel. “We are now on day 12 of delays and excuses. We have no more time for excuses. We have no more time for delays. We need action.”
Israel said that the army has the ability to do this as evidenced by their turning the lights back on in Baghdad and Kabul. He said he would call on President Obama to send those same resources to Long Island.
“We need the federal government to mobilize the full range of assets to assist in turning lights back on and getting the gas back flowing again,” said Israel. “We don’t need to turn the lights back on in Baghdad and Kabul, we need to turn the lights back on in Plainview, and Great Neck and the south shore of Long Island.”
Israel further added that James Lee Witt, director of FEMA during the Clinton administration, is considered to be an expert in disaster situations. Israel said he had spoken with Witt, who told the congressman that he is willing to help out.
“He said he is ready, willing and able,” Israel said of Witt. “LIPA is unready, unwilling, and unable to get the lights back on.”
New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos joined with the congressmen in calling for federal help. Rockville Centre, where Skelos is a resident, has its own utility company. Skelos remarked that village had a plan and restored the power after five or six days, and if a small village could do that, it should have been done by a large organization such as LIPA.
“We are in a desperate situation,” said Skelos. “Please, President Obama, this is our Katrina. Get the troops here, get the resources here, get the knowledge here, so we can start an immediate recovery.”
“To put it into terms that Washington can readily understand, LIPA’s power is at Defcon Two,” said County Executive Ed Mangano in also calling for federal help. “I’ve requested that the federal government send every resource at their disposal to assist the management here at LIPA. LIPA clearly needs the technological and logistical assistance, right down to getting the information on a piece of paper, with clear concise instructions to our residents.”
The lack of communication between LIPA and its residents was another issue that the elected officials attacked LIPA about. Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said that the town fields about 1,200 calls from residents per day and is frustrated that more information cannot be given to residents.
“There has been a total abrogation of responsibility by LIPA not only in delivering and restoring electricity to our residents but in communicating,” said Murray as she blasted the power authority. “The bottom line is we are among the highest ratepayers for electricity in the country, and yet LIPA doesn’t think we deserve a phone number to call to say when is my electrical inspector coming to my neighborhood, when should I expect them, what should I do, what can I do to help LIPA restore our electricity.”
Murray also said that she had a conference call with LIPA COO Michael Hervey, who could not answer her question as to whether she, as a Town of Hempstead citizen living south of Merrick Road, needed an electrical inspection.
“Get back in our neighborhoods, repower our homes, and let us get back to a semblance of normalcy,” she stated. “LIPA has absolutely fallen down on the job.”
Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto expressed similar feelings. He remarked, “The lack of communication between LIPA and its ratepayers, the very people to whom they are beholden, has been incredulous since Sandy hit our area. Our residents and their customers deserve better.”
When the storm struck, Governor Cuomo had remarked that he would closely be watching the performance of utility companies in restoring power outages. He sent a letter to the leaders of utility companies that operate in New York State, including Hervey. In that letter, Cuomo said he would take appropriate action against utility companies and their management if they did not meet their obligations to New Yorkers in this time of crisis. Since then, the governor has labeled the power authority as a “failure.”
Brian Nevin, a spokesperson for Ed Mangano said that the county executive has called for the termination of LIPA management. Both King and Skelos said that change is needed.
“I think LIPA will be structurally changed, as the governor has indicated, and for the better,” said Skelos. “What exactly that is going to be, we don’t know right now. At some point, we will sit down and figure out how to make this responsive to people.”
When asked if changes had to be made, Skelos replied, “Absolutely.”