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Long Island Power Authority Faces Commission


The Long Island Power Authority is finally answering questions about its performance after Hurricane Sandy. LIPA, as it's known, is supposed to provide power to New York City's eastern suburbs, but needed weeks to restore power after the storm. Elected officials blasted the utility and executives have now answered questions from state investigators. Charles Lane of member station WSHU reports on what investigators think of the answers.

CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: Investigators made it clear from the get-go what they thought of the power company's response to Sandy.

BENJAMIN LAWSKY: We're not done with our investigation, but it appears so far, in short, to have been just an epic failure.

LANE: That's Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of New York's Department of Financial Services. He co-chairs a powerful commission set up by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo charged with figuring out what went wrong at the Long Island Power Authority, or LIPA. The panel is supposed to give recommendations in the next few weeks on how to do better next time. At last night's meeting, lead investigator Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice grew frustrated as she questioned, or perhaps jousted with, executives.

KATHLEEN RICE: No one here on this panel can say one thing that could have been done better, right? Am I missing something?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, it's jumping the gun on the process.

LANE: LIPA COO Mike Hervey and others tried explaining to D.A. Rice that they were still recovering from the storm and hadn't begun what they called the lessons learned process. One unfortunate executive tried explaining that starting the review too soon would squelch the review's creativity.

RICE: If you were to tell people who lost their life, who lost loved ones, who don't have a home anymore, who don't have a business anymore, that squelching the creativity of someone who works for LIPA takes paramount importance to their life and their livelihood, I wouldn't say that outside of the confines of this room if I were you.

LANE: The key focus of Rice and others is how LIPA prepared for the flooding that occurred because of Sandy. The storm surge was higher than Long Island has ever seen. And once homes were flooded, LIPA shut off the power for fear of explosion. During restoration, LIPA told flooded homeowners that they have to get local towns to certify electrical inspections before LIPA would turn the power back on. The local towns didn't know this, and Hervey told Rice that the towns never asked if they should be doing it.

RICE: You're saying that the responsibility was the municipalities to ask the questions.

MIKE HERVEY: Code enforcement is the municipalities. Now, in areas where we had - municipalities took that up, New York City and the City of Long Beach...

RICE: Well, we're going to get there. We're going to get there.

HERVEY: worked well in both of those areas, where the municipalities took that up.

RICE: We're going to get there.

LANE: Hervey said having a single interagency taskforce for the entire East Coast of the U.S. was needed in order to deal with the problem of re-energizing homes in storm-flooded areas. He recommends New York start one. He says he's also made the recommendation to the federal Department of Energy.

For NPR News, I'm Charles Lane on Long Island.

GREENE: Of course it wasn't just homes without power for weeks on Long Island. There were businesses too. And this week we got an idea of what that has done to the local economy. A new report from New York's Labor Department shows that Sandy hit employment hard. Long Island in November saw its first monthly job losses in more than two and a half years. The construction and hospitality industries were among those hardest hit. Economists believe Sandy, that big storm, cost Long Island's economy up to $10 billion. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.