Moreland Commission Holds Hearings
The Moreland Commission, tasked with investigating the storm response, preparedness and management of New York’s utilities companies including LIPA, listened last week as Rockaway residents retold stories of being left in the dark for weeks after superstorm Sandy hit the Peninsula.
The January 17th hearing at the Challenge Preparatory Charter School, Far Rockaway came after the commission released an interim report on January 7th recommending the restructuring and privatizing of LIPA. On January 9th Governor Cuomo included the proposal in his State of the State address. “What happened in New York was tragic and, in respects to the utility, in many cases was flat out wrong,” said Benjamin Lawsky, the co-chair of the commission. “The commission is charged with answering three basic questions,” said Lawsky, “what went wrong, how and why it went wrong and how to fix the problems. “All New Yorkers deserve answers, said Lawsky. “Our charge is to get those answers and to shine a bright light on what went wrong and how to fix those failures.”
There wasn’t much disagreement on the need for LIPAs restructuring from those who testified before the commission. Through a representative, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall supported the call for privatizing LIPA. She called for “combining the functions currently served by LIPA and National Grid” so that they are “performed by one [company] in order to avoid confusion and to allow for public accountability.” Marshall also believed that “LIPA was totally unprepared to deal with this ordeal. It had no emergency plans, including one of restoring electricity in the event of a massive loss of power…. In fact, it was about two weeks before LIPA began responding in a coherent way to the storm’s impact.”
Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who was flooded out of his home on Beach 122nd Street, stated, “The plug should be pulled immediately on LIPA.” Simon suggested a citizen’s committee be formed and involved in whatever decision is made about restructuring the utility. Norm Silverman, a manager for a 72 unit co-op, said that LIPA turned off the electricity for his co-op for two weeks without explaining why.
“There was no heat, no lights” said Silverman. “They caused (hardship for) people who otherwise would not have suffered from the storm.”
Hank Iori, the president of the Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, called LIPA’s response to the storm “unacceptable.” He said, “The service we got was not the service we are paying for. We were knocked into the dark ages where cell phones didn’t work, nothing worked – nothing electrical,” said Iori. “When they started showing up they weren’t very well organized.” Iori termed the technology used by those in the field as archaic – paper and pen – instead of mechanical devices such as those used by UPS and other organizations to keep track of information. Iori added his voice to others who testified as he called for getting rid of LIPA. “It should be a whole other operation,” said Iori, who favors a public utility over a private company whose bottom line, he fears, would be making a profit. Denean Ferguson, the vice president of the 101st Precinct Community Council, was a lone supporter of keeping LIPA. “Don’t throw it away,” said Ferguson. “Put it back together. Make it stronger, better than it was before.” Ferguson was in agreement with many in calling privatization “detrimental to rate payers.”
In the proposal to privatize LIPA, the Public Service Commission would be sufficiently strengthened. The PSC would be able to do regular audits of the utility’s management, operations and rate requests. Currently there is no effective oversight of the utility.
Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder and State Senator Malcolm Smith also attended the hearing.
Like other many other residents of Rockaway Goldfeder believes that, “LIPA’s failures during Hurricane Sandy and lack of preparation for natural disasters leading up to the storm was utterly unacceptable and they must go.” The commission will take all comments made at the hearing into consideration in their final report.
Residents who would like to send in a comment to the commission can do so at its website http://moreland.ny.gov/.