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Local News December 14, 2012  RSS feed

CHANGE OF HEART ON POWER LINES?

Con Ed To ‘Consider’ Underground Shift
by Robert Pozarycki

As the city embarks on rebuilding from the damage left behind by Hurricane Sandy, Con Edison is reportedly warming up to the idea of burying overhead utility wires into underground ducts.

“Putting major overhead power lines underground is ... a consideration and will be examined in greater detail,” said a statement from Con Edison in announcing that it will invest $250 million on “measures that can help protect critical equipment from flood damage.”

Residents in Middle Village, Maspeth, Woodhaven, Forest Hills and other areas of Queens which are powered by overhead lines lost power for several days following Hurricane Sandy after wires and poles were knocked down either by the wind or by fallen trees and branches that were toppled by the gusts.

But such areas of Middle Village, in particular, frequently lose power during typical summer thunderstorms, according to City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.

“There some constituents in my district that, every time there’s a storm, they lose electricity,” she told the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Dec. 12.

Following the September 2010 macroburst that caused widespread damage to the overhead power grid in Middle Village, Crowley publicly called on Con Edison to work to move the lines underground. But the utility company, as previously reported, balked at the idea, claiming that the transition would take many years and cost millions of dollars— with the expenses ultimately passed on to customers through higher charges.

With Con Edison now considering moving above-ground wires below the street in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Crowley stated on Wednesday that she is encouraged by the development.

“I think that it’s time that Con Edison brings all of its customers into the 21st century,” the Council member said. “Overhead power lines are backdated. They’re not safe and not reliable.”

Con Edison’s announcement came last Thursday, Dec. 6, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined a plan for reinforcing the city’s infrastructure during the rebuilding process to reduce the chances that the severe damages caused by Sandy will be repeated.

In his speech, Bloomberg said that he would work with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on finding ways to speed up the investment of “distributed energy, micro-grids, energy storage and smart grid technologies” in order to reduce the risk and length of power outages.

“We may or may not see another storm like Sandy in our lifetimes, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that we should leave it to our children to pre- pare for the possibility,” Bloomberg said. “We don’t know whether the next emergency will be a storm, a drought, a tornado or a blizzard, but we do know that we have to be better prepared for all of them.”

The mayor stated that the city would need to make changes in the months and years after Sandy as it adapted to problems caused by previous disasters, both manmade and natural, in the years prior.

Included in the rebuilding plan announced by Bloomberg is a re-examination of the coastal evacuation zones since the storm surge wrought by Hurricane Sandy affected areas which were not evacuated.

While immediate coastal areas such as the Rockaways and Coney Island within “Zone A” were ordered to evacuate before Sandy’s arrival, neighborhoods in Zone B which were not evacuated—such as Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn and Howard Beach—nonetheless sustained flooding related to the storm.

Bloomberg also tasked Deputy Mayors Cas Holloway and Linda Gibbs to review the city’s disaster preparedness measures and consider ways to alter them and make them more effective. A full report is due back to the mayor in February 2013.

Bloomberg pledged that the city would rebuild the coastlines “smarter and stronger” and more sustainable than what was there before. The president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Seth Pinsky, was tasked by the mayor to formulate recovery and rebuilding programsn.

“But we do know that the hardesthit communities are going to need more individualized and targeted resources— both in the short term and in the long-term,” Bloomberg said. “We have to reexamine all of our major infrastructure in light of Sandy, and how we can adapt and modernize it in order to protect it.”.