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Cuomo puts N.Y. utilities on notice

Nov. 2, 2012 at 1:52 AM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put the state's power utilities on notice that they will be held accountable for their Hurricane Sandy performance.

Cuomo sent a letter Thursday to the seven chief executive officers who head utilities in New York state saying he would take appropriate action against those utilities and their management if they do not meet their obligations to New Yorkers in this time of crisis.

"In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers are faced with responding to its continued harsh impacts on literally every facet of life. I recognize there are men and women in the field now working hard to restore service, and we are grateful for their efforts. But it is your job to provide them with adequate resources and support to get the job done in a timely and safe manner," Cuomo wrote in the letter.

"Utilities, like elected officials, are vested with the public's trust. In the case of utilities, in exchange for conducting business and generating profits for their shareholders, they are entrusted to provide safe and adequate utility service. When they fail to keep the public's trust, they must answer.

"The response of your companies to this emergency will be, in great part, a function of how well you prepared for it and a testament to how seriously you view this responsibility," Cuomo said.

"If you failed to prepare, however, as evidenced by your response, it is a failure to keep your part of the bargain -- a failure to keep the trust that New Yorkers have placed in you by granting you the privilege to conduct utility business in New York state; in particular, the certificates of public convenience and necessity granted by the state. New Yorkers should not suffer because electric utilities did not reasonably prepare and such a failure constitutes a breach of the public trust.

"Under such circumstances, I would direct the Public Service Commission to commence a proceeding to revoke your certificates," Cuomo said. "With respect to the Long Island Power Authority, I will make every change necessary to ensure it lives up to its public responsibility. It goes without saying that such failures would warrant the removal of the management responsible for such colossal misjudgments."

In 2006, Buffalo, N.Y., experienced a freak snowstorm in mid-October that downed trees and pulled down power lines putting 1 million in the dark. In 2007, New York experienced a 100-year flood that also resulted in power outages. Last year, Hurricane Irene's more than 12 inches of rain flooded towns upstate near Albany. Later, Tropical Storm Lee brought flooding to the Susquehanna River Valley, dropping 10 to 12 inches of rain in the Binghamton, N.Y., area.

Last October, the Halloween Nor'easter, which followed an East Coast path similar to Hurricane Sandy, dropped up to 20 inches of snow on trees still bearing green leaves, putting more than 3 million people along the East Coast -- many in New York -- in darkness.

No matter where the power outage or for whatever reason, the response from New York utility companies to when people could expect the power back on has been the same -- "a week to 10 days."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Thursday the city should expect to get most of its power back in a "week to 10 days."

"Consolidated Edison is making progress in restoring electric service. Since yesterday, the lights have come back on for many people in South Brooklyn, on Staten Island and in some small parts of Lower Manhattan. Currently, some 534,000 customers citywide remain without electrical service -- down from 643,000 the day before," Bloomberg said at a news conference Thursday.

"The good news is that roughly 40 percent of that total -- some 228,000 -- are in Manhattan, most of them concentrated below 34th Street. When Con Ed fixes one station, an awful lot of that should come back very quickly. It's an easier job than going out with every single individual power line down."

About 1 million customers on Long Island lost power, and that dropped to 678,000 customers still without power Thursday, while about 200,000 were without power in the New York City suburbs.

"New York City's power outage differed in Manhattan because we have an elaborate infrastructure down 10, 15 to 20 stories underground designed 100 years ago without consideration of flooding, because we did not have flooding," Cuomo said in a telephone interview on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show."

"In Manhattan, we have tunnels for electricity. We have tunnels for the subway trains. We can't operate the trains until we pump out the water and we can't operate the trains until we have electricity.

"I joked with President Obama that we seem to have a 100-year flood every two years, but at this point I don't believe it is a fluke and it won't happen again. There is a frequency to these weather events, here and all over the globe. They are happening more frequently and are more intense," Cuomo said.

"What made Manhattan, Manhattan was its underground infrastructure -- it wasn't affected by the weather -- but Manhattan's greatest asset is now a liability. We have to redesign for this new weather eventuality and it is threatening to many, but that is where we are," Cuomo said.

"We can argue the cause, if the cause was human behavior or weather patterns, but you can't argue the water is coming over the banks, because the fact is the subway is flooded and the power is out because the water is coming over the banks. The effect is inarguable."

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