Local officials had some harsh words for LIPA management in the parking lot of the LIPA/National Grid office in Brentwood Saturday afternoon, heaping praise on those working 16-hour shifts in order to get the power back on, while under the direction of a utility company whose management they called a “disgrace” and “massive failure.”
“We have come to the conclusion that we will no longer wait for LIPA headquarters to get this work done,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. “It is clear that there has been a massive failure of leadership and we’ve effectively ceased communicating with LIPA headquarters. We are now directly communicating with substation managers, who are the ones doing the work on the ground to get the power back on.”
Bellone says that three days ago the Town of Babylon and other areas subject to a LIPA inspection process, which the company required to be performed in areas below Montauk Highway prior to putting the power back on, threw the inspection process out in areas where it was safe to do so and now hopes to have most of Suffolk County’s power restored by Sunday night.
“There are an army of people out there who are working to reach that goal. This inspection process was not about protecting public safety,” said Bellone. “It was about attorneys, people working to cover their own…you know what.”
Once the inspection process was scrapped, many who lived in flooded areas in the Town of Babylon who were still waiting for LIPA inspections got their lights back over the past few days.
“The shame of it is most of those communities could have been lit days before that,” said Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Shaffer, who said he had to negotiate with LIPA attorneys to get the power back on south of Montauk Highway. “Literally homeowners south of Montauk Highway, if there was not damage on their street to infrastructure, those homes could have been on a couple of days after the initial storm occurred last Monday. That’s a disgrace and somebody is going to have to answer for that.”
Shaffer says the only thing LIPA management was concerned about was having their attorneys protect them from any liability related to the storm.
“What we told them is that we’re not going to be liable for an elderly person that we find in their home frozen to death because they didn’t have power or heat,” said Shaffer. “We made it very clear to LIPA that we’re not going to participate in their nonsensical inspection service,..we knew after communicating with the substations that most of that power could be restored.”
As of yesterday, Bellone says more than 30 county employees were sent to report to each of the LIPA substations in Suffolk County to determine what resources were on the ground, where those resources were deployed and how they can be effectively deployed and redeployed to make sure the power gets back on in Suffolk County as quickly as possible.
“The only public health crisis here is that people are desperate,” he said. “We have elderly people who are freezing in homes trying to wait it out. We have people doing unsafe things desperate to try to return power.”
Bellone then held up an 8-foot blackened stick, confiscated by Suffolk County police from a man, tired of waiting for help, who was using it to try to fix the wires in front of his home. He also reiterated that the LIPA workers on the street are not to blame.
“There are many angry people out there who have every right to be angry about what has happened here,” said Bellone. “But the people here at the substations, the people who are out there in the field, the linemen who are doing this work, they are doing everything they can. They have been poorly served by terrible leadership …and that anger should not be pointed at them.”
But for now, Suffolk County has broken ties with and taken over for LIPA and in Suffolk County it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Several residents in western Suffolk have told the Press they’ve seen more utility trucks on the roads over the past few days than during all of the week before.
“It is pretty clear that LIPA has been a complete disgrace,” said Legislator Steve Stern, who is still without power himself. “We’re saying to LIPA and its administration: Enough is enough.”