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Suffering on Long Island as LIPA Shows Its Flaws

It was four days before Hurricane Sandy would arrive, and trustees of the Long Island Power Authority gathered as forecasters’ warnings grew dire. For more than two hours, the trustees talked about a range of issues, including a proposal to hire a branding consultant.

But discussion of the storm lasted just 39 seconds.

The trustees’ approach toward the looming disaster reflects deep-rooted problems at the authority that have hobbled its response, causing hardship for hundreds of thousands of its customers, according to an examination of its performance by The New York Times. The bungling of the storm has called into question the authority’s very future.

Go Home: Sophonie Sylvain, with her daughters, right, was turned away when she tried to complain in person at an office in Hicksville, N.Y.

The examination by The Times shows that the Long Island Power Authority has repeatedly failed to plan for extreme weather, despite extensive warnings by government investigators and outside monitors. In fact, before Hurricane Sandy, the authority was significantly behind on perhaps the most basic step to prepare for storms — trimming trees that can bring down power lines.

Customers have been exasperated not only by a lack of power, but also by the authority’s inability to communicate basic information. Long Islanders have recounted tales of phones unanswered at authority offices, of wildly inaccurate service maps and of broken promises to dispatch repair crews.

Of course, the storm was highly unusual, and utilities across the Northeast have come under criticism for delays in restoring power. The authority said it was “on plan” to restore power.

Still, the recovery has been slowest on Long Island, where roughly 90 percent of the authority’s 1.1 million customers lost power. As of Tuesday, more than 10,000 customers were still in the dark.

“Resources came late,” said Frank P. Petrone, chief executive of the Town of Huntington and a former official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “When they came, there was no management to utilize those resources effectively. And it took 10 days for them to get their act together.”

Senior officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have excoriated the authority, but in the past, they have paid little attention to its management.

The authority has not had a permanent chief executive for two years. Five spots on the 15-member board are vacant, 3 of which are Mr. Cuomo’s to fill.

The authority’s chairman, Howard E. Steinberg, has stayed on past an expired term. He was originally appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki, who left office almost six years ago.

Trying to fend off attacks on his oversight of the Long Island Power Authority, Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday established a high-level panel, called a Moreland Commission, to investigate how utilities across New York, including the authority, handled Hurricane Sandy and other storms.

He also revived a proposal that he made in his 2010 campaign to combine the authority with other state energy agencies, but has not ruled out privatizing the authority.

“I don’t believe you can fix it,” he said. “I believe it has to be overhauled and you need a new system.”

Also on Tuesday, the authority’s acting chief executive, Michael D. Hervey, announced his resignation effective at the end of the year.

The authority’s chairman, Mr. Steinberg, said the trustees spent only 39 seconds discussing the storm at the meeting because the board was confident that a plan was in place. He noted that the trustees were not utility professionals, but rather “an oversight board of citizens.”

“At that point, a few days before, there is nothing the board can do one way or another,” he said.

In many ways, the Long Island Power Authority, known as LIPA, reflects the shortcomings of the state’s quasi-independent public authorities, which are often criticized as a shadow government that resists scrutiny. Long Island is the only region of New York where the main electrical utility is run by the government.

Continue Reading at The NY Times

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Posted by on November 14, 2012. Filed under NY News,Slider. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.