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Queens Council Member Pushes for Con Edison Accountability Measures After Tropical Storm

Downed trees and power lines at 172 Street, between 33rd and 35th Avenues, in North Flushing on Aug. 10 (Courtesy of Council Member Paul Vallone’s office)

Sept. 15, 2020 By Allie Griffin

A Northeast Queens council member is pushing for accountability from Con Edison after the company took a week to restore power to several Queens neighborhoods in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias last month.

Council Member Paul Vallone introduced two resolutions at a City Council hearing on the company’s response to the storm Monday.

Vallone, in one resolution, is calling on Con Edison to have a dedicated team of employees and resources that focus on restoring the power on a borough by borough basis after a black out.

The company took significantly longer to restore power to households in Queens than the other boroughs after Tropical Storm Isaias, he said.

The Aug. 4 storm left 46,000 households in Queens without power by 10 a.m. the next day— the most of the five boroughs. In the first 48 hours after the storm, Con Edison had only restored 59 percent of outages in Queens versus 89 percent in Brooklyn and 81 percent on Staten Island..

The varied response and delay continued over the course of the week.

“After Storm Isaias and the ensuing slow outer-borough response, it’s more apparent than ever that we need accountability and reform,” Vallone said.

“Con Edison’s failure to quickly restore power to tens of thousands of Queens residents in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias meant that the borough hardest hit by COVID-19 also became the hardest hit by this weather event.”

He also introduced a resolution calling on the state legislature to pass a law requiring Con Edison to cover the costs of wires damaged by a storm that run from private homes to utility poles — which is currently the responsibility of homeowners.

The majority of the power lines in Queens are above-ground, making the borough’s power supply vulnerable when trees fall down. In Manhattan, there are no overhead lines

The president of Con Edison, Tim Cawley, testified at the City Council hearing.

He said the August storm caused the second-most outages in Con Edison’s history, only behind Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“This damage was so severe that we were required to entirely rebuild sections of our system rather than just repair them,” he said in explaining the outages.

A spokesperson for Con Edison said the expensive costs of some of Vallone and other elected officials’ suggestions would make it difficult to keep electricity bills affordable for New Yorkers.

“We welcome a frank and constructive conversation with our customers, their elected representatives, our regulator, and other stakeholders about ideas such as burying all overhead equipment or retaining thousands of additional workers to respond to storms,” the spokesperson said. “It is important to be open and honest about the need to balance the very high costs of these ideas with meeting Con Edison’s core mission of providing affordable and accessible of power for all of our customers.”

The City Council passes resolutions on state and federal issues that affect New York City. Resolutions express the recommendations and opinions of the city, which can influence state and federal legislation — but do not create new law.

A tree in Sunnyside destroyed by Tropical Storm Isaias (Photo: Queens Post)

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