Riverhead offers LIPA rec center for staging area, plans for cleanup

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.

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