Nine days after Tropical Storm Isaias left many without power on Long Island, lawmakers are demanding that the utility improve its process for prioritizing restoration to customers who are medically vulnerable.
Among the unhappy PSEG-LI customers is Rebecca Gutierrez, a 9-month bedridden pregnant mother of two from Huntington who was still without power Wednesday. With only 10 days until her due date and daily phone calls to the utility, she has still not been placed on the company’s critical care list, which is intended to prioritize customers in fragile medical conditions.
“One of the latest responses I got [from PSEG] was that I should go stay at somebody’s house that has power,” she said. “During the pandemic, when we’ve been quarantined into the past five months, and I haven’t even seen my parents, this is a really unacceptable answer.”
According to PSEG-LI’s website, “participation in the Critical Care Program does not guarantee priority power restoration,” and the program is limited to those with a medical certificate and who use certain electric medical devices such as respirators and IV machines. But critics say that doesn’t go far enough.
The storm knocked out power Aug. 4 to more than 420,000 of the utility’s 1.1 million customers in Nassau and Suffolk counties and the Rockaways. Many proved unable to call, text, or access the website of the utility after the storm due to a related communications failure that sparked outrage across LI.
“The big issue that I and so many people have with [PSEG’s] response to this storm is communication,” said New York State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport). “On day nine you should be able to call and say we have this extenuating situation here that is dire, that requires power right away, and they should show up. And they’re not.”
The expectant mother is just one of many Long Islanders with medical conditions that made losing power more difficult.
“Having a baby during the pandemic is one thing, and now with the extra layer of not having power … not knowing if I’m going to have to bring a newborn home into a hot house,” Gutierrez said, calling temperatures in her home “unbearable.”
Calling the mishandling “absolutely unconscionable,” Gaughran called for the resignation of Long Island Power Authority President Thomas Falcone and PSEG-LI President Daniel Eichhorn, while invoking his previous experience as the chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority.
“If our communication system had failed as poorly as this I wouldn’t be waiting for somebody to call me to resign, I would have just done the right thing and step down,” he added, noting that while PSEG-LI workers are “heroes,” miscommunication from higher management was to blame.
Gaughran also announced new legislation that will give the Public Service Commission authority over storm management preparation on LI.
“LIPA is supposed to be carrying on that role, and they obviously have failed,” the senator said. “The legislation will take the authority away from them and give it to the Public Service Commission, which covers all the other utilities for the state of New York in this situation but not the residents of Long Island.”
With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting an “extremely active” Atlantic hurricane season, the senator remained concerned about the inevitable next storm to down trees and power lines. Peak hurricane season is in August and September.
“This was just a tropical storm,” he said. “What’s going to happen when there’s an actual hurricane? This is a disgrace and it needs to end.”
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