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LIPA

The Port Jefferson Civic Association meets inside the Port Jefferson Free Library on April 8. Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

At the Monday, April 8, Port Jefferson civic meeting, residents congregated to tackle one of the community’s most pressing issues: the fate of the Port Jefferson power plant. As the world pivots toward renewable energy and sustainable practices, the discussion revolved around embracing new energy sources while addressing the environmental and financial concerns associated with the current plant.

Xena Ugrinsky, a member of the Village of Port Jefferson Budget and Finance Committee, urged the need for a collective community conversation stating, “Everything is in motion. All we can do is ensure that we’re a part of the conversation and do our best to guide them to the right decisions.”

The conversation highlighted two essential work streams: Exploring new energy possibilities and navigating the political landscape in order to best incorporate the voice of the civic and community more broadly. Residents recognized the political sensitivity surrounding the issue and emphasized the importance of engaging local leaders to facilitate meaningful dialogue and action.

Ugrinsky and other affiliates have organized a committee to gather thoughts, concerns and invite further conversation on this issue.

“This is kind of a second run at this problem,” Ugrinsky remarked about the formation of the committee. “We’re going to do a bunch of research and we’re going to engage all the stakeholders. We’re not solutioning — we’re trying to gather the data, create a common conversation about what’s going to happen to the power plant and ensure that Port Jeff village has a voice in that conversation.”

“We’ve got the right people on board and we’re gathering more people. If you know of anybody who has either the background or the willingness to roll up their sleeves and participate let me know and we’ll get them engaged,” Ugrinsky said of the committee. “Our charter is to explore forward-looking and innovative possibilities for the future of the power plant, be a catalyst for positive change, while fostering a transparent and inclusive decision-making process.”

During the previous civic meeting, on March 11, Bob Nicols, a resident, shed light on the financial implications, emphasizing the need for strategic decision-making. With potential tax increases looming, residents expressed concerns about the economic impact on the community and the desirability of living in Port Jefferson.

As discussions delved deeper, the focus shifted toward finding productive solutions that align with the community’s values. In conversation, residents explored the possibility of repurposing the existing infrastructure to support new energy endeavors, such as hydrogen or battery storage, thereby maintaining the plant’s value to the community.

The urgency of the matter was brought to light by the recognition that delaying action could lead to missed opportunities and increased financial burdens. As Ugrinsky remarked, “If we don’t do this now, 20 years from now, tons of places will have done it, and we’ll think, ‘You should have done something about that when you had the opportunity.’”

The meeting also served as a platform to address broader community concerns, such as waste collection costs and upcoming events like the village’s first Arbor Day celebration. 

The Arbor Day event will take place on Wednesday, April 24, at 5 p.m. in the parking lot behind Old Fields, Billie’s and The Pie where county Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) will hold ceremonial plantings of two trees.

Looking ahead, the path forward for Port Jefferson’s power plant remains uncertain, but the commitment to engagement and collaboration remains. At the next meeting, the civic plans to invite candidates for the Port Jefferson school board. 

“The next meeting will be May 13 and we hope that we will be able to invite the school board candidates to come and present their platforms, and have a discussion about their vision for their role,” said civic President Ana Hozyainova.

Photo courtesy Peter Gollon
By Peter Gollon

I commend this newspaper for its thorough and balanced Sept. 14 and Sept. 21 articles on the proposed conversion of the Long Island Power Authority into a fully municipal utility that would directly operate the electrical transmission and distribution system that it has owned for decades.

LIPA, which is the country’s third largest municipal utility, is legally required now to outsource its operation to another entity. Right now that is PSEG Long Island. Before that, it was National Grid.

LIPA’s staff of 60 experienced utility professionals supervises PSEGLI’s performance according to metrics taking 207 pages to outline. Each year, LIPA pays PSEGLI $80 million for just 18 executives to plan and direct the 2,500-line call center and other workers whose pay is provided by LIPA. That’s more than $4 million for each PSEGLI-supplied executive.

There is considerable overlap between the top PSEGLI staff and the LIPA staff that supervises and grades PSEGLI’s performance. Both the Legislative Commission on the Future of the Long Island Power Authority and LIPA agree that if LIPA hired a dozen more staffers, it could run the system itself, dispensing with PSEGLI’s management and saving about $75 million each year.

This savings would be real, even if PSEGLI were doing a good job. But it hasn’t been. Their performance in storm restoration after Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020 was so bad, and their reports on the causes of the failure of the outage management system were so dishonest, that LIPA considered PSEGLI to be in default of their contract.

Beyond PSEGLI’s shortcomings, the problem is the structure of the unique and convoluted “hybrid” system itself. Besides the extra cost, the inefficiency of this two-headed structure is why LIPA is the only large municipal utility in the country to be operated this way.

As a LIPA trustee for five years, I saw the difficulties, delays and expense that this structure results in. For example, it required three months and a resolution voted by the LIPA Board directing PSEGLI to develop and implement an accurate and modern asset management system for the billions of dollars of LIPA-owned assets before PSEGLI would take such action.

The delays and inefficiency of this management structure do not show up as a specific dollar cost in LIPA’s budget, but they are there and impede LIPA’s adaptation to the new reality of stronger storms and a faster transition to a renewable energy system.

LIPA needs the simple, common municipal utility structure recommended by the state’s Legislative Commission. The Board of Trustees should be reorganized so some trustees are appointed by both Suffolk and Nassau County executives, rather than now where all the trustees are appointed by the state’s political leadership in Albany.

Locally appointed trustees should give LIPA needed credibility with its Long Island customer base and might make it more responsive to local concerns. In recent years, there has been significant hostility resulting from inadequate understanding by both PSEGLI and LIPA of the impact of changes in tariffs, and from the location and details of new facilities or even just taller and thicker poles.

Finally, one trustee should be named by the union — IBEW Local 1049 — representing the utility’s workforce to ensure that their interests are represented at the highest level.

The legal structure in which the workforce is actually housed is critical. Their transfer from PSEGLI to LIPA must be done in a way that continues their employment under federal labor jurisdiction and preserves their well-earned pension rights. Any proposal that might put them under weaker state labor jurisdiction and possibly jeopardize their pensions has no chance of passing the Legislature, nor should it.

Long Islanders should support this once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix a broken utility structure.

The writer served on the Long Island Power Authority Board of Trustees from 2016 to 2021.

The LIPA Power Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

In recent years, Long Islanders have grown increasingly frustrated and alienated by our state government in Albany. This dynamic must change to move our region forward.

New York State has failed to meet our needs or fulfill our aspirations on various local issues. From stonewalling modernization of the Port Jefferson Branch of the Long Island Rail Road to lackluster maintenance of our state roadways to blatant negligence in protecting nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, our state government has come up short constantly.

While geographical proximity may make it difficult for Albany to be attuned to all of our needs, the state government has not made a proper effort to listen to and address our concerns.

Though the connection between Albany and Long Island remains decidedly frayed, one 2022 development should give our citizens hope: the Legislative Commission on the Future of the Long Island Power Authority.

Given the complexity of restructuring LIPA as its contract with PSEG-LI nears expiration in December 2025, a team of state legislators has moved around our Island to gather public feedback on the matter — and the people are speaking up.

At TBR News Media, we are committed to a bottom-up policymaking approach. The citizens of our communities should be guiding our state government toward representative policy outcomes — not the other way around, as is currently practiced. And our elected representatives in the state Legislature are the necessary agents to convert our collective will into sound policy.

This legislative commission on LIPA is a rare opportunity to see our state officials at work, generating local feedback that they will then share with the remainder of the Legislature. This commission is opening up meaningful conversations about a critical state policy that affects all of us.

Questions surrounding our electrical grid are complicated, and many of them will likely remain unresolved regardless of the commission’s final recommendations. Yet, for once, our citizens have been given a voice.

The promise of this legislative commission is its ability to give our residents a platform to help guide state policy. We need such legislative commissions to explore better relationships with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the NYS Department of Transportation and various other state agencies.

With this style of bottom-up democracy, we can begin to decentralize the power of Albany, restoring a connection between Long Island and New York State that has for years been severed.

We ask our state delegation to begin holding more commissions, and may we all start participating in a more representative legislative process moving forward. If we make our voices heard, we cannot be ignored.

Graphic from PJSD website

During a Port Jefferson School District Board of Education public meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, the board put two ballot measures out for a public vote on Monday, Dec. 12.

The measures deal with infrastructure improvements and upgrades in elementary, middle and high schools. Proposition 1 is an estimated $23.1 million proposal focused on critical infrastructure improvements and updated facilities. 

Proposition 2 is an estimated $1.88 million proposal that would replace the existing grass field at the high school with turf. (For a detailed description of both propositions, see The Port Times Record’s Sept. 8 story, “PJSD administrators present proposed capital bond projects and cost estimates.”)

Before putting these proposals out for a public referendum, the board first conducted a state-mandated environmental review and then a vote to put the propositions on the bond referendum. 

With BOE president Ellen Boehm absent, both SEQRA reviews passed the board unanimously. Proposition 1 was also unanimously approved. Though Proposition 2 passed, trustees Rene Tidwell and Ryan Walker voted “no.”

The decision to approve these propositions did not come without public opposition. District resident Drew Biondo objected to Proposition 2 because a turf field will require continual costs for refurbishment.

“In the course of paying for a $1.8 million field, even before we’re fully paid for it, we’re paying nearly the same price again just to refurbish it,” Biondo said.

Biondo addressed the impending loss of LIPA subsidies in the coming years, commonly referred to as the glide path. While some believe the agreement with LIPA is settled, Biondo contends that the issue remains ongoing and that much uncertainty remains.

“In 2027, the power service agreement expires,” he said. “[Then] what happens? If the power is not needed, then the plant goes dark. And if the plant goes dark, what will National Grid do? They will close the plant and likely demolish it.”

Biondo believes the looming prospects of demolishing the power plant may foreshadow a significant loss of revenue from LIPA. He advised the board to be mindful of these factors and their impact on taxpayers. 

Biondo concluded his remarks by stating that small class sizes and the ability for students to get to know their teachers are an asset to the district. “I think you have to go to your strength, and our small size is a strength, and our low taxes are a strength,” he said. 

District voters will get the final word on the matter this December. In the meantime, the district will hold a series of tours and information sessions to educate residents on the issues at stake in this upcoming referendum. 

(Left to right) Trustee Rebecca Kassay, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, Mayor Margot Garant, Trustee Stan Loucks and Trustee-elect Lauren Sheprow. Right photo courtesy Sheprow, all others from the Port Jefferson Village website

The Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees will undergo a major shakeup next week as Bruce Miller leaves the board.

Miller, who has served since 2014, was unseated in last week’s village election after an unsuccessful bid for a fifth term. His seat will be filled by Lauren Sheprow. 

Bruce Miller, above, leaves office next week after eight years on the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees.
Photo from village website

As Miller transitions out of village government, his colleagues weighed in on his legacy of service to the village. In a series of emailed statements, Mayor Margot Garant and trustees took the opportunity to describe their many takeaways from Miller’s time in office. 

The mayor, under whose administration Miller served during the entirety of his tenure as a trustee, highlighted several initiatives Miller had championed through the village government.

“Bruce’s vision for a better Port Jefferson brought us to the table on many big issues, including the repowering of our power plant, getting a better ride on the Long Island Rail Road, and reducing energy costs for those who live both in Port Jefferson and beyond,” Garant said. “He should be commended on every level for his selfless contribution, and I wish him all the best in his retirement years ahead, spending many more days visiting his daughter and doing the things he loves.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden praised Miller for the innovative ideas and problem-solving skills that he brought to the village board. According to her, his creative approach is best illustrated by his taste in architecture.

“My first memory of Bruce was with his work on the Architectural Review Committee and his ideas on Victorian-style exterior design,” she said. “He always brought an interesting perspective to issues and it’s been a pleasure working with him. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Trustee Stan Loucks, who has also served alongside Miller for eight years, emphasized that Miller’s service to the community long predates his time as trustee.

“It should be obvious to everyone that Bruce Miller has been, and still is, dedicated to servicing the village of Port Jefferson,” Loucks said. “His many years on the school board and the eight years he served as a trustee are proof of that.” He added, “There is a saying, ‘All good things come to an end.’ I feel that Bruce was one of those good things. I wish him the best going forward — good health and happiness.”

Trustee Rebecca Kassay, who will remain on the board for another term, also acknowledged Miller’s contributions to the school district. She added that she hopes to continue to tap into Miller’s wealth of experience moving forward.

“Trustee Miller has garnered invaluable institutional knowledge from his years of service, not only on the Board of Trustees, but also from his years on the board of education,” she said. “I appreciate his perspectives and look forward to continuing a dialogue with him to help inform future village decisions.”

Sheprow commented on the lessons she takes away from her predecessor’s decades of public service in and around the village. 

“Bruce Miller has been contributing time and talent to the Village of Port Jefferson — and before that to the Port Jefferson School District — for close to two decades,” the trustee-elect said, adding, “He deserves a great deal of respect for all he has contributed and I applaud him for his dedication. He is a role model for public service to be emulated in the Village of Port Jefferson and I hope others will follow in his footsteps and get involved as he has for the betterment of this community.”

Sheprow will be seated officially after a formal swearing-in ceremony held on Monday, July 4, at Village Hall. This will conclude Miller’s eight-year tenure on the village board. 

To read about Miller’s biggest takeaway from his time in office, see the TBR News Media June 30 story, “A legacy of service: Bruce Miller reflects upon his tenure as Port Jeff Village trustee.”

County legislator discusses major initiatives coming out of her office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is working on several projects, from bike trails to erosion education programs and more. Photo courtesy Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is at the forefront of several initiatives at the county level. In an exclusive interview with Anker, she opened up about her positions on public campaign finance, the North Shore Rail Trail, coastal erosion and more.

For those who do not know you, can you describe your background?

My background is that I’m a mother of three children and have been a Mount Sinai resident for 25 years. I’ve lived in Middle Island and in Coram, and I’m very familiar with this area and my legislative district. I worked at different ad agencies, did some independent contracting work and at some of the local shops in Patchogue. Then I took off for a handful of years to raise my kids. 

When my youngest was born, the New York State Health Department put out a cancer map showing that our area had a high frequency of cancer, particularly breast cancer, and my grandmother had just passed away from breast cancer. I decided to start a non-for-profit, the Community Health and Environment Coalition, around 2003. And this was basically to advocate to the state to come and do an investigation, tell us what we need to know, why we had these numbers and where these numbers were coming from. 

Eventually, they came back to the community and did testing, but unfortunately, they left more questions than answers. We continue to investigate and try to understand the causes of cancer.

I got a job working as the chief of staff for [Councilwoman] Connie Kepert [D-Middle Island] at the Town of Brookhaven. She pulled me in and then they got a $4.5 million grant for solar programs. Working with Connie, we started the programs and then I was promoted to be in charge of creating an energy department at the Town of Brookhaven. I left that position to run for this position.

I ran for office and have been elected seven times. I’m term limited, so I can’t run anymore. I’m a Democrat but fairly conservative — moderate and in the middle. I find the common denominator and I focus on that. I don’t go too far left or too far right, and I’m here to represent my constituents and to kind of settle the storm when there are issues out there. My top priority is public safety and the safety of my residents. I did that for my kids and my family. I do that now for my constituents.

How did your most recent project, the North Shore Rail Trail, come to fruition?

That one was very challenging. I had to overcome some major obstacles and challenges along the way. 

The three main challenges were getting the county exec on board. The former one was not supportive; the current one, Steve Bellone [D], supported it. I also had to get the energy folks from LIPA on board. I had worked a lot with them while running the energy program at the Town of Brookhaven and we had a good professional relationship. 

That worked because they were open to the idea of LIPA having this as a wonderful public relations project. The third one was getting the community on board. The ability to see this through stemmed from the fact that there had been fatalities related to people attempting to ride their bikes, jog or run along our local highways. Because all of those concerns and challenges were in place, it was time to move forward.

Hopefully, and I stress this, people need to use common sense and they need to take responsibility for their safety when they cross the intersections. But this provides a safe place for people to be able to recreate. 

Can you discuss the work you are doing related to coastal erosion?

Erosion is a huge issue. I was meeting constituents and I was on Culross Drive in Rocky Point and as I walked up to a house, I noticed that their neighbor’s house had fallen off the cliff — literally, it was down the cliff. This was 10 or 11 years ago.

I found that a lot of constituents in my area are part of beach associations. Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point — these are private beach communities, so they don’t qualify for federal funding. I’m using the resources we do have to educate them on certain seagrasses, different brick structures, just give them ideas to try to address it. 

Unfortunately, if one addresses it and this person doesn’t and this person doesn’t, then it creates issues for the people that do. So I’m trying to see if we can get everyone on board to address the erosion issue. We’ll do what we can.

Public campaign finance has been an ongoing dispute between the county executive and the Legislature. Can you elaborate on your stance regarding the public campaign finance program that was repealed last week?

I support funding campaign finance reform. I support it. It’s a program that was started last year. We put money into it and it’s a shame that we couldn’t try it out. We do pilot programs all the time and I would have hoped that they could have at least done that. 

It was a project that the former presiding officer, Rob Calarco [D-Patchogue], had advocated for. He worked for a long time on it. I respect him and the amount of effort that he put into that. I would have preferred to at least give it a shot and see where it was going.

If it wasn’t doing well or there were some issues or problems with it, we could have always changed it. I voted to have another way to finance campaigns. Any large organization that has a lot of money can create very, very challenging campaigns for any individual — and I’ve been there personally. 

What is it about the communities that you represent that makes them so distinctive and unique?

I think that we have a lot of folks who understand how important it is to take an active role in their community. We have a lot of folks that participate in projects and events and activities that continue to inspire the people around them. Like the butterfly effect or a ripple in a stream, it just keeps going and I see that in my community.

Right now, in this complicated political climate, we need to understand that we all have something in common and we can all be part of addressing issues and accomplishing our goals by working together collaboratively. I’ve seen that and I do that, and I think that — whether it’s unique to us or not — it’s something that’s important that is happening in our district. 

We get what we put into our community. And right now, the people that have contributed to and who have improved our community, I’m really honored and privileged to work with those folks. 

Whether it’s Bobby Woods with the North Shore Youth Council or Bea Ruberto from the Sound Beach Civic Association, you really see who the true heroes are within your community when you work with them. And I feel very honored to have the ability to be part of what they are trying to create, which is a place that we can call home.

After eight years of service on the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees, Bruce Miller will leave office. File photo

After eight years of service on the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees, Bruce Miller will leave office after this week.

Miller, who unsuccessfully sought a fifth term as trustee in this year’s election, will leave office on July 4. He will be succeeded by Lauren Sheprow. 

In an exclusive interview with Miller, the outgoing trustee reflected upon his time in village government, his greatest challenges and his hopes for the future.

Miller congratulated the winners of the race, saying, “I would like to congratulate the two people that did win, Rebecca [Kassay] and Lauren. I hope they will do good things for the village.” He added, “Obviously, I’m disappointed that I didn’t place in the necessary top two, so I’ll be looking for other things to do. Any assistance that I can provide to the new trustees or the mayor or anyone else associated with the village government, I would be glad to provide.”

Writing his own story

Miller highlighted several projects that he believes represent the core of his contribution to the village. He said the projects he focused on were those that required long-term vision, carried out over many years.

“Certain things take a long time to accomplish,” he said. “With the green energy aggregated solar, we had to get laws passed in order to have it permitted on Long Island as LIPA resisted.” Miller added that the village could sign up for this program right now, which would reduce utility costs for village ratepayers. 

‘I worked in areas kind of on my own. I made my own story.’

— Bruce Miller

The Long Island Rail Road was another trademark issue for Miller. He believes that after years of persistence, funds are finally being made available to improve the rider experience and expedite services. “The money is there,” the retiring trustee said. “There’s $10 billion coming to the MTA and we need to work with our legislatures to ensure that we get a piece of that.” He added, “In the Army we used to have the expression, KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. To the Long Island Rail Road, I would say just streamline this thing and do what you have to do to get us a better ride.”

Miller will be leaving office with “some ideas on the drawing board.” He said that if he had been reelected, he would have explored the possibility of annexing the Lawrence Aviation property and the houses between the property and Sheep Pasture Road.

“There’s 40 acres of open space there where we could declare parkland,” he said. “That would resolve a lot of issues that we have.”

Another idea Miller had was to consider the possibility of constructing underground parking in the Dutch model. 

Working as a trustee, Miller said he encountered numerous difficulties along the way. A contrarian and independent voice, Miller said he was often in the minority on many of the major issues.

“I was a minority trustee,” he said. “It’s a very low-leverage situation. I tried to be supportive of the mayor and the priorities of the majority, but in some cases I could not do that and resisted a lot of that.” He continued, “I worked in areas kind of on my own. I made my own story.”

Tradition vs. transformation

Miller said that while much of the village’s character remains unchanged since his first term, the village has undergone some profound changes, most noticeably in Upper Port.

“If you look at the four blocks south of Sheep Pasture and North Country Road, there’s change going on there and there will be a lot more,” Miller said, adding, “The area was pretty blighted and the people who owned the property there allowed it to deteriorate in order to extract consideration for larger zoning, which they got.”

Miller also acknowledged that much of the development in Upper Port is made possible through Industrial Development Agency subsidies, “which means the apartments pay very little taxes, so there’s a great incentive for building and not much desire on the part of the developers to give back,” he said.

One area Miller had hoped developers could compromise on was architecture, which he believes should reflect the New England and maritime traditions of the community and create a sense of continuity between uptown and downtown. 

“I had advocated that we use a Victorian, maritime kind of architectural structure on these buildings to tie them in with the downtown, so that we are one village,” he said, adding, “Making a village of quality is of interest to the residents because it improves their property values and their sense of being.”

Miller said he understands the sense of urgency to develop those areas. However, he still believes the developments should be guided by greater oversight from the village. “We’re not looking toward the future in terms of developing an ambiance that is on a par with Cold Spring Harbor or Southampton,” he said.

Leaving office

Miller’s message to the incoming board is to keep his priorities in mind as they are important. Aside from the duties that preoccupy board members from day to day, he said considerable forethought and long-term planning are also necessary.

“There’s a lot that goes on in the village that needs to get done, but we need to get beyond that and make substantial improvements in what we’re focusing on,” he said. “I would hope that they would pick up some of these issues that I had started with.”

He also asked that the trustees and the Planning Board apply greater pressure to real estate developers, who “are getting an extraordinary deal.” 

Miller said he favors the construction of condominiums over one-bedroom apartments, which he says can also help offset declining student enrollment in the school district.

When asked if he had any regrets about his time in village government, he replied, “No, I don’t have any regrets. I really see this as a calling and it improves me. I like to contribute. I enjoy putting my energy and creativity into enterprises benefiting the community, and I will continue to do so.” He added, “I just see the value in contributing to and helping my fellow citizens and trying to express a better vision for their future.”

PSEG trucks remove a downed tree in Mount Sinai Aug. 7. For several days, cars had to swerve around the tree that split the intersection of North Country Road and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

LIPA filed a $70 million lawsuit against PSEG-Long Island in State Supreme Court in Mineola against the New Jersey-based power company for breach of contract in response to Tropical Storm Isaias, which hit Aug. 4 and knocked out power for some Long Islanders for over eight days.

The Department of Public Service recommended a lawsuit to the LIPA Board of Trustees.

“Utility companies are beholden to ratepayers, and when that service is inadequate — or as in this case, a complete failure — those utilities need to be held accountable,” Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. PSEG “failed to hold up their end. It’s inexcusable, and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The complaint, filed by attorneys at the law firm Rivkin Radler, alleges breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, based on PSEG’s “failure to prepare for and manage restoration effort during and following Tropical Storm Isaias. LIPA also brings this action for specific performance to compel PSEG LI to comply with its obligations” under the operations service agreement.

The suit also alleges “corporate mismanagement, misfeasance, incompetence, and indifference, rising well beyond the level of simple negligence.”

Immediate Fix Demanded
State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport), an outspoken critic of LIPA and PSEG LI’s response to the storm, welcomed the legal action.

“It’s about time LIPA start acting to protect the best interests of Long Island ratepayers,” Gaughran said in a statement. Gaughran urged LIPA to make sure the $70 million is paid by PSEG shareholders and not ratepayers.

“An independent receiver should be appointed to refund this $70 million to hardworking Long Islanders and not dumped into the blackhole of LIPA’s budget,” Gaughran added.

In a statement, LIPA CEO Tom Falcone said PSEG LI must “immediately fix these failed information technology systems and abide by its contract” as LIPA continues to review its legal, contractual and termination options.

“PSEG Long Island has collected nearly half a billion dollars from Long Island customers over the past seven years while failing to meet its basic obligations,” Falcone added.

John Rhodes, Special Counsel for statewide ratepayer protection for the New York State Department of Public Service, asked if LIPA should “find a new service provider?”

In a statement, PSEG Long Island said it was “hard at work addressing recommendations in LIPA’s 30- and 90-day reports. We believe that the current public-private partnership is the best option for Long Island customers and we have remained committed to being the service provider of choice for LIPA.”

PSEG LI is “aware that this lawsuit has been filed and we are reviewing it.”

Lawsuit Claims

In the lawsuit, LIPA describes PSEG LI as demonstrating willful, bad faith and grossly negligent failures.

One of a litany of complaints during and after the storm was the inability for customers to connect with PSEG and to receive a reliable estimate of the time to restore power.

Ratepayers were “left without critical information as adequate telephone lines were overwhelmed with calls and an Outage Management System, selected by PSEG LI as able to withstand a major storm and paid for by LIPA, failed.”

About a million customer calls and 300,000 text messages did not reach PSEG LI, according to the suit.

Calls to outage and billing lines “became overloaded and failed,” the suit alleges, with 75% of customer calls to PSEG LI’s Outage Line not going through on the first day of the storm.

PSEG LI “did not properly monitor whether the calls on the Outage Line were connecting. Calls were dropped without PSEG LI’s knowledge,” according to the suit.

LIPA asserted that PSEG should have known about the inadequacy of the voice telephony system.

PSEG did not perform sufficient tests to determine whether the system would function during a major storm event before or in the 100 days after Isaias, the suit further claimed.

The problems with the telecommunications system predated the storm, as the suit indicated that the “OMS did not crash due to Isaias. It was already failing.”

PSEG LI “must develop a comprehensive integrated set of business continuity plans for every critical IT and communication system on Long Island, plus all repair and recovery activities,” according to the suit.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran said he received more calls than any other time in his career from people who could not get to PSEG. Photo from Gaughran's office

Following the power outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in early August, State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) conducted a survey of residents.

With 3,243 people responding, the survey indicated that people lost an average of $434.66. That compares with the maximum of $250 that PSEG Long Island said it would reimburse residents if they produced an itemized list and proof of loss.

Click here to see the full survey results

“I don’t keep my receipts,” Gaughran said in an interview after he publicly released the survey. “I throw mine out. I would imagine a lot of Long Islanders are keeping receipts” from their grocery purchases after their experience with the storm, the outage and the food losses, particularly amid the economic decline caused by the pandemic.

More than half the survey respondents, or over 58%, said they were not able to contact PSEG easily about their outage. At the time of the storm, PSEG recognized that its new communication system was ineffective.

Additionally, over two thirds, or 67 percent, of the residents in the survey said PSEG did not restore power before the estimated time.

In the two years he’s been in the senate, Gaughran said he’s never had this many responses to questions from residents about anything.

The Democratic senator highlighted how over 56% of residents were unaware of PSEG’s Critical Care Program, although those residents don’t believe anyone in their households would qualify. An additional 21% of the survey respondents didn’t know about the program and believed someone in their house might qualify.

The fact that more than half of the people who responded didn’t know about the program is “significant,” Gaughran said.

“Unacceptable” Storm Response

In response to a letter Gaughran sent to LIPA, CEO Thomas Falcone said he would “make sure that your survey results are appropriately reflected in the work streams for LIPA’s upcoming 90-day and 180-day investigative reports into PSEG Long Island’s storm response.”

Falcone called PSEG LI’s response to the storm “unacceptable” and said the LIPA Board has “insisted that the failures not be repeated.”

LIPA’s 30-day report said the computer system caused incorrect restoration estimates.

In its report about the storm response, LIPA concluded that “problematic management control issues,” combined with outside vendors who had “poorly defined service quality assurances” delivered an unsatisfactory customer experience.

A tree fell on a mail truck on Old Post Road in Setauket during Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by John Broven

LIPA’s 2020 Internal Audit plan had previously scheduled a re-audit of the process to maintain customer lists to begin the fourth quarter of 2020. After reports of outdated customer lists during Isaias, LIPA accelerated that process, which started in September. The power authority will address that further in its 90 and 180 day Task Force reports.

The senator, who presented the results of his survey, also reiterated concerns he has about LIPA’s oversight of PSEG LI.

Gaughran said the Public Service Commission, which has considerably more direct oversight with other utilities around the state, doesn’t have the same authority with PSEG LI.

The PSC provides “recommendations” to LIPA and can “force them to pay money to their customers for lost food, lost business. [It] can do this with every utility except PSEG LI because the relationship is different.”

In responding to this concern, LIPA, in a statement, said the LIPA Reform Act provides the Department of Public Service with oversight responsibilities of LIPA and PSEG.

“LIPA’s storm oversight activities are in addition to DPS’s statutory role and DPS’s statutory role is the same for PSEG Long Island as it is for the state’s other utilities,” LIPA said in a statement.

The DPS provides independent recommendations to the LIPA Board of Trustees. The board has accepted every recommendation from the DPS, according to the statement.

LIPA said the only difference between the oversight of PSEG LI and other utilities in New York is that the DPS recommendations are to LIPA’s nine-member board, instead of the Public Service Commission.

The 30-day report includes 37 specific recommendations for PSEG Long Island to put in place by Oct. 15, LIPA said.

As for losses from the storm, LIPA said it secured direct reimbursement for customers through the customer spoilage reimbursement program. That could be as high as $500 per residential customer for food and medicine. PSEG LI is forgoing up to $10 million in compensation to fund this program.

LIPA “may look to pursue additional actions after [its] review and the Department of Public Service’s Investigation” is complete, LIPA said in a statement.

In his letter to Gaughran, Falcone said the 90-day and 180-day reports would have additional “actionable recommendations,” which the LIPA board would ask for independent verification and validation to make sure these recommendations have been implemented.

 

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Port Jefferson is saying it's owed concessions Huntington received in their settlement with LIPA. File photo by Erika Karp

Though litigation between North Shore towns and LIPA have ended, the story of the stacks is not yet over, not by a long shot.

The Town of Huntington, with one hour to spare on deadline, approved the settlement with the Long Island Power Authority on its tax certiorari case over its Northport power plant Sept. 4. The agreement cuts LIPA’s power plant property taxes from $86 to $46 million in a 7-year glidepath. The settlement also included an extra $3 million sweetener on top of the deal to be paid in $1 million installments in the next three years. This settlement addition came just a few weeks before the deadline neared.

Though Huntington residents and the local school district will have to deal with the financial impact over the next seven years, Port Jefferson and its residents are in the middle of its own glidepath from its 2018 settlement over the Port Jefferson power plant. Village officials said LIPA is contractually obligated, based in their own settlement, to also grant any beneficial deals to the Town of Brookhaven and Village of Port Jefferson.

Mayor Margot Garant said during the Sept. 8 village board meeting that Port Jeff’s attorney is in contact with LIPA’s counsel to get those same “sweeteners” by repassing their settlement.

Port Jefferson’s case was finally settled in December 2018, reducing the plant’s assessment from $32.6 million to $16.8 million over 9 years. Port Jefferson is currently in year 3 of the glidepath, with the first two years of the settlement effectively rolled into one.

Port Jefferson is in the midst of dealing with the loss of property tax revenue from the Port Jefferson Generating Station. This year’s budget reflects a $50,000 increase from last year in the total amount that Port Jeff has to raise from resident taxes, partially due to the LIPA settlement.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said he has been in contact with LIPA’s lawyers and is just waiting for the power authority to finalize the details of the Huntington settlement. He expects there could be the benefits of an extended payment and the potential to extend payments out over a longer time, adding that he hopes to have greater details of what Port Jeff should be able to get later this month.

In a statement, LIPA officials said that the power authority, Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “have started discussions to consider amendments to the 2018 settlement agreement for the Port Jefferson Power Station. LIPA intends to provide comparable settlement terms for Port Jefferson residents once the Northport settlement is finalized. Terms will be based on the size of the plant and existing tax payments.”

Egan also touted the village board’s decision to settle their plant’s case earlier than Huntington’s, adding that this means Port Jeff has a more gradual route to weather the drop in property taxes from the plant.

“The mayor and this board bore this settlement on their backs,” Egan said. “It was an early exit on this and Huntington is never going to recoup the costs they did.”

Trustee Bruce Miller said it’s important that Port Jeff receive that extra $3 million that Huntington will also be getting in their settlement over three years. In the past, LIPA has also argued that the plants in both townships may close in the near future. Meanwhile, Port Jeff has argued for keeping the plants running and retrofitting the property with newer technologies.

“We have been speaking with National Grid [which operates the Port Jeff plant] and they have been a little close-lipped,” Miller said. “LIPA, whether they have just been trying to get a settlement from Huntington, has been a little bit intimidating with talking about closing plants and not dealing with us in terms of what a better future will be.”

This post was amended Sept. 10 to add a statement from LIPA.