Electrical outages could last more than a week; pols critical of response

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Downed trees and utility poles mean power might not be restored to all customers for a week.

There’s good news and bad news from the Long Island Power Authority on work to restore power to the hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders still without electricity thanks to Irene, the hurricane that became a tropical storm just before it hit over the weekend.

First the good news. The authority said it expects to restore 90 percent by Friday. The bad news is the other 10 percent may be powerless until next weekend or longer.

And that last part isn’t sitting well with local elected officials.

At Irene’s peak, over a half million LIPA customers were without power. By Monday that number dropped to just under 370,000.

The company is facing its biggest cleanup since Hurricane Gloria struck the island in 1985.

At a press conference Monday afternoon in Brookhaven, state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) was highly critical of LIPA’s performance since the storm struck.

“LIPA gets an ‘F,'” said Mr. LaValle, who also represents Riverhead and the rest of the North Fork.  “I spoke with all five East End supervisors and the number one issue right now is LIPA. The supervisors all said [their towns] are not being served.”

As of Monday 6,868 of Riverhead’s 19,119 LIPA customers remained without power.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he’s been in constant contact with LIPA officials to get running estimates on when residents will get their power back.

He also said he thought it was too early to start calling press conferences on the matter.

“They are working,” he said. “And in the next 48 hours power isn’t largely turned back from this little storm, I’m going to be screaming from the rafters. This thing didn’t even hit us as a hurricane; it was a tropical storm. But at this point we’ll give them an opportunity.”

Mr. Walter was critical of LIPA’s preparedness for the storm, however.

“Everybody last year beat up on LIPA because they spent $4 million staging assets all over Long Island for Hurriance Earl,” he said. “So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure” they pulled back in fear of being criticized again if Irene fizzled out, like Earl did.

“I happened to think they were right when they staged those assets for Earl,” Mr. Walter continued. “Unfortunately, I don’t think LIPA did the right thing for Irene, so I give them an ‘F’ for that. They should have been man enough to stand up and say they did the right thing in Earl, and they should have been man enough to do the right thing again.”

A LIPA spokeswoman also could not be immediately reached for comment.

[email protected]