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Front Page November 16, 2012  RSS feed

Pols Ask For Power, Gov. Sets Up Panel

Commission To Investigate Utility Cos.’ Performance
by Sam Goldman

With frustration over the lack of power boiling over among residents and lawmakers alike, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order on Tuesday, Nov. 13 establishing a commission to investigate the response, preparation, and management of New York’s power utility companies during three major storms over the past two years—including Hurricane Sandy last month.

The commission, empowered under the Moreland Act, will review the actions of area utilities and “make specific recommendations to reform and modernize oversight, regulation and management of New York's power delivery services.”

“From Hurricane Irene [to] Tropical Storm Lee to Hurricane Sandy, over the past two years New York has experienced some of the worst natural disasters in our state's history,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As we adjust to the reality of more frequent major weather incidents, we must study and learn from these past experiences to prepare for the future.”

The commission will have subpoena power. The statement noted that the panel will specifically examine the responsibilities of the state’s various regulatory agencies.

“As evidenced by Hurricane Sandy, the existing labyrinth of regulatory bodies, state agencies and authorities, and quasi-governmental bodies has contributed to a dysfunctional utility system,” the statement notes.

The panel will be co-chaired by former state Attorney General Robert Abrams and current Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky.

Also on the commission are former Public Service Commission chairperson Peter Bradford; Tony Collins, President of Clarkson University in upstate New York; John Dyson, former chairman of the New York Power Authority; Rev. Floyd Flake, Senior Pastor of Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in Jamaica; former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, Joanie Mahoney, Onondaga County Executive (representing the Syracuse area); Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice; and Dan Tishman, chairman and CEO of Tishman Construction Corporation.

The move comes after several local utilities, most notably the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), have come under withering criticism for their response to Hurricane Sandy. On Tuesday, Nov. 13, LIPA Chief Operating Officer Mike Hervey tendered his resignation, which will take effect at the end of the year.

In separate press releases last week, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, Rep. Gregory Meeks, State Sen. JosephAddabbo, City Council Member Eric Ulrich, Rep. Bob Turner, State Sen. Tony Avella and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall were among those calling for help in getting the lights on in the Rockaway peninsula.

Ulrich and Turner, in a Wednesday, Nov. 7 release, called on LIPA and Con Edison to speed up the process of restoring power.

“There is absolutely no excuse as to why thousands of New Yorkers are still without heat and power and why all they can get from their power companies are runaround answers. LIPA and Con Ed need to get the power and gas back on for the thousands of New York families who just spent a snowy night with no power and no heat to warm themselves up,” Turner said. “We have received hundreds of calls from people just trying to get an answer from the likes of LIPA with no success. There is no more time to waste; temperatures are dropping at a faster rate than the number of families without power. That equation needs to change, and it needs to change now.”

“The devastation in this community is on a scale we have never seen before. All around the city there are people going on with life as usual, as if nothing ever happened, while here in the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Howard Beach we have people who can only function during daylight hours completely bundled up to stave off freezing,” Ulrich added.

Avella struck the same note in a Thursday, Nov. 8 open letter to Cuomo.

“While I am very aware of the daunting task facing these public utilities in the wake of this devastating storm, it remains completely unacceptable that there continue to be so many people still suffering with no power and no heat in temperatures that have dropped to 32 degrees or lower in the past several days,” said the lawmaker. “In addition to the poor communication with customers, my anger at this situation arises as a result of the extremely poor organizational structure being shown by both utilities, especially LIPA. There are numerous reports from electrical workers in the field that LIPA’s organization is horrific and is resulting in an incredibly unorganized and slower than necessary response.”

Goldfeder, Meeks and Addabbo joined with community members on Thursday, Nov. 8 at the St. Francis De Sales Church in Belle Harbor calling for LIPA to meet with residents at town halls in a coordinated effort to end the confusion and restore power.

“The coordination and efforts to restore power and heat to the residents of Southern Queens and Rockaway have been dismal and completely unacceptable. As a result of inaction and neglect by Mayor Mike Bloomberg, LIPA and Con Ed, the health and safety of our most vulnerable neighbors are being jeopardized,” said Goldfeder.

“LIPA, this is a disgrace. We are unable to get a clear and precise answer by your company on when power will be restored to all of Rockaway. The people of Rockaway deserve much better service and, yes, heads should roll on this one,” said Danny Ruscillo Jr., president of the 100th Precinct Community Council.

The lawmakers were joined by State Sen. Malcolm Smith, Community Board 14 Chairperson Delores Orr and District Manager Jon Gaska; Hank Iori, president of the Belle Harbor Property Owner’s Association; Rockaway resident and historian Vivian Carter; Steve Stathis, owner of Boarder’s Surf Shop, and Dan Mundy, Jr., president of the Broad Channel Civic Association.

In her own Nov. 7 press release, Marshall asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to team up with LIPA to accelerate the recovery.