08/31/11 10:26pm
08/31/2011 10:26 PM

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | John Bruckner, President for Long Island Electric Transmission and Distribution Services for National Grid, and Michael Hervey, Long Island Power Authority Chief Operating Officer at a press conference Wednesday in Hicksville.

Riverhead’s nearly 4,000 still-powerless residents might not have seen many Long Island Power Authority trucks this week, but workers are out there doing their jobs, LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey said at a press conference in Hicksville Wednesday.

Mr. Hervey said that while fixing what has been the third-worst power outages a Long Island utility company has sustained since Hurricane Gloria in 1985, workers must rebuild lines from the power source, which would explain why trucks weren’t all over the roads right after the storm.

“We have to rebuild the circuit from its source,” Mr. Hervey said. “It’s a very systematic effort.”

More than a half million customers were effected by power outages after Tropical Storm Irene downed trees and utility poles across the Island Sunday.

About 20 percent of Riverhead area residents were still not connected as of Wednesday afternoon. Calverton has headed the list of power outages in Riverhead Town, with 44 percent of households and businesses having no power Wednesday, and in Wading River, 40 percent of people were powerless as of 2 p.m., according to LIPA’s power outage map, which is continually updated.

The hamlets of Riverhead, Northville, Aquebogue, Jamesport and Riverside in Riverhead Town, and Flanders, Riverside and Northampton in neighboring Southampton Town were faring much better, according to the LIPA figures. Jamesport saw its share of outages since Sunday but as of Wednesday afternoon just 64 power outages were reported from 1,350 customers.

A time line has not yet been set for specific communities, but 90,000 customers have been restored in the past 24 hours, Mr. Hervey said at the press conference, adding that some 90 percent of LIPA customers should have power by midnight Friday, a prediction LIPA officials first made Monday.

Roughly 600,000 customers were without power at the outages peak on Sunday, and many people here and elsewhere have complained that LIPA has been inattentive — and almost impossible to get in touch with — throughout.

Mr. Hervey said LIPA walk-in customer service centers have been closed since the storm but “on the web, we’re still open for business.” Customers service representatives can also be reached at 1-800-490-0075.

“There will be increased numbers of what we call ‘intentional outages’ ­­— outages that are required for crew safety,” Mr. Hervey said. “Don’t be surprised if there are some short-duration outages in your area. That’s a normal part of the restoration.”

Locally, residents across town were making do using generators and getting help from neighbors.

Judy Gnatowski of the Lakewood Park retirement community in Calverton said she had just purchased $200 worth of Omaha Steaks and did a big shopping trip at BJ’S Wholesale last week before learning the storm was going to hit.

She’s since plugged her refrigerator into her next-door neighbor’s outlet in the mobile home park off River Road. Her neighbor still has power, she said.

“I’m charging my phone in my car,” Ms. Gnatowski said. “I’m going to my daughter’s for showers. I toasted bagels on the barbecue.”

She said the biggest threat from the prolonged power outages in her community is the potential for food loss.

“All of us here are on pensions and Social Security,” she said.

Some in Jamesport were taking the power outages in stride.

“Everybody here is looking out for each other,” said Jim McEntee, 49, of Vista Court, which was almost completely without power through Tuesday. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt.”

Mr. McEntee, who had served with the U.S. Navy’s Disaster Recovery Team in the mid-1980s, said his biggest concern was keeping his multiple sclerosis medicine cool, restocking it once a day with ice — though he said ice was hard to come by Sunday morning.

“That’s my primary concern,” he said of the medicine. “The stuff costs a ton and I stocked up before the storm hit.”

But as the each day goes by without juice, Bayview Inn & Restaurant owner Bob Patchell of Mattituck loses more money.

“We’d be full this week” he said Tuesday afternoon. “This is the last big week of summer.”

The building lost power about 5 a.m. Sunday, he said, and has also been without cable, internet or phone.

If the outages last through Friday, he said he could expect to lose between $30,000 and $40,000 in business. He said the company has already lost about $3,000 in food, though some of the pricier steaks were taken to his chef’s house for refrigeration.

He said the restaurant was “dead, dead” Saturday before the storm, a night he would typically serve about 120 people.

“We did maybe 10 covers,” he said.

In Flanders, Dottie Minnick was using a portable 4,200 kilowatt solar-powered generator for sssnecessities. The set up, which retails for about $11,000, didn’t cost Ms. Minnick a cent to rent — she’s an employee of Go Solar in Aquebogue.

The generator works continually in sunlight and six to eights hours after dusk, she said.

And her neighbors have noticed how quiet the machine is compared with noisy diesel-powered generators.
“People have already been asking me about it,” she said. “It’s perfect for this.”

vchinese@timesreview.com

08/31/11 5:00pm

In an effort to help restore power in Riverhead Town, the town’s Henry Pfeiffer building in Calverton will be offered to LIPA as a staging area for equipment and vehicles following Tropical Storm Irene, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Wednesday during a press conference on storm cleanup efforts.

The Town Board is expected to approve the measure Thursday at a special meeting, he said. LIPA will not be charged for use of the site, and the agreement applies only to this storm, although Mr. Walter said the town hopes to put similar agreements in place for future storms.

“Right now, we’re primarily focused with cleanup and LIPA,” he said. “As far as LIPA is concerned, we in Town Hall have been in contact with them constantly. We are not getting the type of response that you would expect, even at our level.”

Mr. Walter said the town offered the use of the rec center at the Calverton Enterprise Park to LIPA last week but LIPA declined, instead using East Hampton Airport and Calabro Airport in Brookhaven Town. Since then, the offer was extended again and LIPA informally accepted, he said.

“Does that mean that we will get better coordination from them?” Mr. Walter asked rhetorically. “I don’t know, but at least we can drive up and see them and find out what’s going on because we know where their base of operations will be.”

Police Chief David Hegermiller clarified that the EPCAL site is not intended as a place where residents can go to make complaints.
LIPA initially had about 10,000 Riverhead customers out of power Sunday night and had cut that down to about 4,900 by Wednesday, officials said. Chief Hegermiller said the winds were too high for LIPA crews to do anything Sunday night, so the worked they’ve done to cut the number of power outages in half has been done in just over two days.

“I will say that as far as their storm prep for this event, I — and I think the board and the people up here — would give them an F,” Mr. Walter said at Wednesday’s press conference, where he was joined by Chief Hegermiller, Highway Superintendent George Woodson and councilmen John Dunleavy and Jim Wooten.

“But at this point, they are working and doing the best they can and I would ask the residents for their patience,” the supervisor added.

He thinks LIPA was “a little gun-shy” because of criticism they received for spending too much money on preparations for Hurricane Earl last year, which turned out to be a minor storm.

Mr. Walter said he thinks LIPA did the right thing in planning ahead for Earl.

“Irene was not even a hurricane,” he said. “Lord have mercy, if we get hit with a [Category] 1 or 2 hurricane.”

Mr. Woodson said one problem his department initially experienced was that when trees fell on power lines, the highway department couldn’t do anything until LIPA arrived, and LIPA couldn’t do anything until the highway department arrived.

He said in the future, LIPA and highway department employees should be stationed in the same building so they can address trees that have fallen on power lines at the same time. Mr. Woodson’s crews have been working 12-hour days since Monday to remove downed trees and open up roads, he said. They also will be collecting storm debris placed at curbsides.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/29/11 9:06am
08/29/2011 9:06 AM

Irene, which hit the area as a weakened tropical storm, has come and gone without any serious injuries in Riverhead. But she did leave hundreds of downed trees, broken utility poles and nearly 10,000 Riverhead Town residents still without power. Check out photos from our readers surveying the damage around town.

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Reader John Waggoner sent us this photo of the flooded Peconic Riverfront.