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Sep 6, 2011 6:05 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Power Outages Could Extend To A Month After A Hurricane

Sep 7, 2011 12:47 PM

“Limbs, limbs, limbs—it’s all about the limbs,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said this week. “There were a lot of limbs up on wires that LIPA had to get tree surgeons to remove.”

Mr. Hervey said that the company has a standard schedule for maintaining trees near their lines and credits the program with having prevented even more outages during Irene.

But in some areas, even basic maintenance by LIPA or local municipalities in the past have been met with cries of aesthetic degradation by residents.

“There is always the conflict that the utility right-of-ways are not maintained to the extent needed,” Mr. Gregor said. “But people love the trees. I love trees, but they need to be maintained, or they become a problem when you get storms.”

Improvements to power line systems have made repairing them much easier. The slowest part of the job, Mr. Hervey said, is replacing downed utility poles, which can take a four-man crew nearly a full day to replace. LIPA had to replace nearly 1,200 poles after Irene, along with more than 900 transformers and 225 miles’ worth of power lines. Mr. Hervey said National Grid and contracted crews from out of state did a good job getting Long Island customers back on the grid as quickly as they did—in Connecticut nearly 6,000 households were still without electricity on Tuesday, according to the New Haven Register newspaper.

“I thought the guys on the ground did an outstanding job,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. agreed, though he added that there were a number of issues with LIPA’s response.

Mr. Thiele said he would like to see several changes at the power company, including a review of its management contract with National Grid and making seats on its board of directors elected positions, as was intended when LIPA was formed in 1988.

While burying all of LIPA’s power lines is not feasible, Mr. Thiele acknowledged, a capital program of strategically burying select lines in highly vulnerable places or of critical transmission connections would be wise, he said. A major transmission line between Southampton and Bridgehampton was buried in 2007 after residents along the new line’s proposed route objected to the aesthetics of installing the line on special 48-foot-high poles and agreed to a special surtax to cover the $3 million-per-mile additional cost of burying the lines. Mr. Thiele said that he’s been asking for years to get main power supply lines between East Hampton and Montauk buried.

Such specific fixes could ease issues the next time a severe hurricane strikes the area, but most involved acknowledge that extended power outages are simply going to be a fact of life. Mr. Hervey said he is hopeful that after such a long drought of severe storms, the impacts of Irene will awaken Long Islanders to the sort of inconveniences that will be faced if there is a strong hurricane in the future and spur residents to prepare better.

Mr. Wilkinson, the East Hampton supervisor, said that preparation can ease the burden of power outages only just so much.

“People are dependent on power—for communication, for health, for safety,” he said. “You don’t realize how non-discretionary power is until your power is off. Everything revolves around it.”

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