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Tropical Storm Isaias

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.

 

Hurricane Laura is expected to cut across the breadth of the U.S. and come at Long Island as a series of storms. PSEG LI said its ready for any cleanup afterwards. Image from NOAA

Amid numerous investigations about its failed communication systems and inaccurate estimated time to restore power after Tropical Storm Isaias, PSEG LI is returning to an earlier version of outage software.

Tropical Storm Isaias uprooted a tree in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The utility, which is overseen by the Long Island Power Authority, is rolling back from version 6.7, which was installed earlier this year, to version 5.5, according to an email from LIPA in response to TBR News Media’s questions.

This is one of several steps PSEG, under LIPA’s supervision, is taking to address any future storms that might hit Long Island.

“LIPA is currently conducting an end-to-end review to understand the root causes of the communications and restoration systems issues, including the outage management system and the various feeder systems,” LIPA representatives explained in its email.

The power authority also indicated that it was closely overseeing PSEG’s immediate, corrective actions through daily calls and reports and an independent review of system modifications and testing.

LIPA and Electeds Conduct Reviews

LIPA is planning to issue 30, 90, and 180-day reports to the LIPA Board of Trustees and the public.

The reviews include an evaluation of pre-storm readiness of the telecommunication systems, a root causes analysis of unprocessed calls and text message, and review of the design and implementation of outage management and restoration systems and processes and actionable recommendations on storm preparedness, system and management controls and approaches to increasing system reliability and performance.

“It’s good that they’re doing an outside report … It’s not going to help us now.”

– Jim Gaughran

While State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) welcomed the review, his primary concern, he said, was whether the utility was prepared for the next storm, particularly in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Laura, which devastated parts of Louisiana.

“It’s good that they’re doing an outside report,” Gaughran said in an interview. “It’s not going to help us now. This is a crisis situation and you would think that they would have an emergency task force… that would come up with changes and implement them” within days of the response to a storm that knocked out power for more than a week to parts of Long Island.

PSEG said in an emailed statement that the company is “working diligently to be prepared for the next major weather event and ensure that our response to Tropical Storm Isaias was an anomaly.”

The utility company indicated it had made configuration and capacity changes to the phone system, rolled back the outage management system to a more “stable” version and put “processes in place to continuously monitor our IT systems for capacity and bottleneck issues.”

A tree lies across Old Post Road East in Mount Sinai after Tropical Storm Isais. Photo by Kyle Barr

While New York State Attorney General Letitia James is conducting her own investigation into the company’s response to the storm, LIPA indicated that the Department of Financial Services, in cooperation with the Department of Public Service, was also participating in a review.

The involvement in the DFS is “good,” said Gaughran, who has been a consistent critic of both LIPA and PSEG even before Tropical Storm Isaias. “The more the merrier.”

One of the questions Gaughran and other representatives asked about LIPA’s oversight of PSEG LI related to the timing and effectiveness of the most recent stress test. In response to a letter Gaughran and Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) sent to LIPA, CEO Thomas Falcone indicated that the outage management system was most recently stress tested in June of this year.

“Part of LIPA’s review includes the stress-testing procedures used in the past and improvements for the future,” Falcone said in his response.

Cost of the Cleanup

Senator Gaughran and Assemblyman Thiele said they are also focused on the source of any reimbursement the company receives in connection with costs related to the storm.

Long Island rate payers “shouldn’t be paying for the cost of out-of-town crews sitting around waiting to do work and not doing work because the management failed to communicate,” Gaughran said. The costs of bringing in those crews from out of state and feeding and housing them should be shared by shareholders of PSEG, Gaughran contended.

“I believe shareholders have to be responsible for at least any portion of the additional costs related to their incompetence and failure in dealing with the communication system,” he said. Had the communication system worked as it should, the time to restore power might have been cut down dramatically, Gaughran argued.

“LIPA retains a third-party auditor for storm recovery costs where federal funds are involved, as will likely be the case for Isaias,” Falcone said in the letter.

LIPA estimates that the cost of restoration, which involved over 6,000 personnel, was over $350 million, with $260 million eligible for FEMA reimbursement. The main driver of the costs, Falcone said in his letter, was the extensive damage to the electric grid, which occurred at over 20,000 locations.

Reiterating sentiments he shared during a virtual joint hearing of the New York State Senate and Assembly, Falcone said the system PSEG LI designed and implemented did “not meet the standards of our contract. LIPA retains all of its contractual rights and remedies and will pursue the appropriate course of action after the conclusion of the various investigations.”

“LIPA retains a third-party auditor for storm recovery costs where federal funds are involved, as will likely be the case for Isaias.”

Thomas Falcone

Gaughran said he would consider Falcone’s response to his letter and would likely respond with additional questions that address additional concerns.

“There are a lot of issues I hope” LIPA addresses, the state senator said, including why the company didn’t contract with workers from National Grid, who were already on Long Island.

“You had Long Islanders ready to work,” Gaughran said. “They could have been put into operation immediately.”

Gaughran doesn’t necessarily think LIPA needs to revoke its contract with PSEG LI. Rather, he wants to “get a system so the lights can go back on at a reasonable time.”

Ultimately, the state Senator believes the way LIPA oversees PSEG LI may not provide sufficient reassurance for residential and business customers.

Ultimately, Gaughran would like the legislature to revisit the structure of the agreement between LIPA and PSEG LI.

“This structure isn’t working,” Gaughran said.

In his letter to the politicians, Falcone agreed that “Long Islanders deserve better” than the response they got from PSEG LI after Isaias. “LIPA is working to ensure they get better.”

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A fallen tree in T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park. Photo from WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization launched a volunteer and fundraising effort after Tropical Storm Isaias left piles of debris and damage throughout Stony Brook village.

The storm destroyed more than a dozen trees in T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park on Harbor Road adjacent to Avalon Nature Preserve, and many more in the surrounding area. It also ravaged the park’s braille engraved handrails, the borders maintaining the park’s gardens, the walkways along the pond and more.

For 80 years, the park has served as a community space for people to enjoy the great outdoors and watch ducks, geese and other birds. The Stony Brook Mill Pond Fishing Club has been teaching fishing techniques to youngsters since it was established in 1951.

The park damage is still being assessed to determine a complete restoration cost. Local Girl Scout Troop 2907, of Setauket, and Girl Scout Troop 824, Service Unit 45, of Centereach, have committed to assist in removing debris at the park’s sensory garden, which features plants with an array of textures and scents.

The WMHO’s volunteer cleanup effort is part of a larger fundraising initiative titled the New Beginnings Online Auction and Virtual Party to benefit restoration of the park. The online auction and virtual party kickoff are scheduled for Oct. 19 when donors will have the opportunity to go online and place their bids for a good cause on a wide variety of highly prized items.

To learn more about the restoration fundraising efforts, call The Ward Melville Heritage Organization at 631-751-2244.

A large tree in front of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library was no match for Hurricane Isaias. Photo by Pam Botway

Politicians with long memories and short fuses demanded answers from PSEG and LIPA for the communications problems and the slow restoration of power after Tropical Storm Isaias, even as they lamented how this wasn’t supposed to happen again after the long recovery from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D) said LIPA and PSEG were inconsiderate with their spoiled food policy. Photo by Kyle Barr

In a full-day hearing of the combined New York State Assembly and Senate, local politicians including Assemblymen Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) and Senators James Gaughran (D) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Center) questioned everyone from the chairman of the Public Service Commission, John Rhodes, to the President of PSEG Long Island, Daniel Eichhorn, and the CEO of LIPA, Thomas Falcone.

“We were told after Superstorm Sandy that things would change, but they did not,” Kaminsky said. “Why do we pay some of the highest electric and internet bills in the country when we couldn’t reach a provider, when the information we got was inaccurate? Why is it so hard to receive a reimbursement? Who is funding those reimbursements?”

Indeed, Rhodes, of the Public Service Commission, said he wanted answers from numerous utilities throughout the state and that the commission was not going to leave “any tool on the table.”

That proved small consolation for politicians and their constituents, some of whom were without power for over a week and many of whom had to throw out the entire contents of their powerless refrigerators and freezers. That is an especially problematic proposition in the aftermath of the pandemic, when budgets are tight and the recession caused by the lockdown has cut jobs in numerous industries.

Englebright questioned why PSEG is reimbursing customers for food spoilage only if their power was out for at least 72 hours. The reimbursed amount totaled $150 if the customers didn’t have receipts and could be as high as $250 if they had receipts, photographs, a canceled check or a credit card bill.

Englebright suggested the timeframe should allow for food spoiled after about 48 hours and wondered why the utilities had not settled on a longer time frame. The Setauket assemblyman wondered whether PSEG believed food “spoils more slowly on Long Island than any other place.”

Eichhorn said the 72 hour threshold defined numerous factors in a storm and “aligns with some of our processes.” The three day time frame “triggers certain things.”

Falcone added that the 72 hours defined a major storm.

“That’s not a health definition,” Englebright countered, but, rather was a “storm definition. That doesn’t necessarily reflect what somebody’s suffering from if their refrigerator is out for perhaps even half of that length of time.”

PSEG’s Eichhorn acknowledged that the company’s response to the storm was “not in line with our expectations.” He said the company is conducting its own reports to figure out what went wrong and to make changes and improvements.

“I’m not here to make excuses,” Eichhorn said. “We own the experience our customers had and we are committed to fixing it.”

Kaminsky asked whether PSEG had tested its system prior to the storm. Eichhorn responded that the company did a simulation in June and that PSEG passed that test.

That passing grade, despite the performance a few months later, will be a focus of PSEG’s own review, as well as a review conducted by LIPA.

“The most relevant stress test was the storm and [the PSEG system] was obviously inadequate,” Falcone said. The systems were “not robust enough” to allow customers to report power failures to PSEG.

On behalf of their constituents, politicians also lamented the shifting timeline for restoring power. In several cases, representatives at the virtual meeting recounted how residents spoke with people in utility trucks or representatives from PSEG who told them their power was on when their constituents were still struggling through the ongoing outage.

In an interview, Gaughran expressed his frustration with the utility arrangement on Long Island, where LIPA oversees PSEG, while the Public Service Commission has no direct authority or recourse.

“The Public Service Commission cannot fine them or sanction them,” Gaughran said. “They’re totally out of the loop.”

Sen. James Gaughran and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory officials at an Aug. 18 press conference. He has called for additional oversight of both LIPA and PSEG Photo from Sen. Gaughran’s office

Reflecting the concerns of his fellow senators and assemblymen and assemblywomen, Gaughran wondered what the utilities would do to protect Long Islanders in the event that another storm, with potentially stronger winds and heavier rain, impacted the region.

Gaughran said he would like to ensure that PSEG and LIPA don’t tap into a storm reserve fund, which is a collection of money set aside with rate payers money.

“The language in that fund is clear: they can’t access that for any part of the cost” from mismanagement or inadequate storm response, Gaughran said. “If you have an out-of-town crew sitting at the side of the road for hours waiting for instructions … those extra costs are costs of incompetence.”

Gaughran introduced a bill that would give the Public Service Commission the authority to investigate and sanction and fine the company and force them to take corrective action.

To prevent this kind of communication failure from happening again, Eichhorn said the company was conducting reviews of its computer system, which includes its outage management system and the telephone and digital experiences.

“We have made interim changes during and since the storm,” Eichhorn said. “We are continuing to do an after-action review to identify additional short and long term changes to ensure we’re ready for the next storm.”

Falcone added that LIPA would “go back and see why the system failed. We are hiring independent people to redo the stress test.”

Assemblyman Smith asked whether PSEG knew that National Grid employees weren’t a part of the storm response crews, even though people with experience were on Long Island.

“National Grid [employees] were not used during the storm,” Eichhorn said. “That will be included in the review.”

A car crushed by a tree in Miller place after strong winds by Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by Kyle Barr

PSEG Long Island announced Monday, Aug. 17 they will be allowing people to make claims in order to be reimbursed for spoiled food or medicines during outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias.

PSEG is allowing people whose power was out for 72 hours or more between Aug. 4 and Aug. 12 to file claims with the utility company’s claims department. Residents can be reimbursed up to $250 while commercial entities can be reimbursed up to $5,000 if the outage was caused by Isaias.

For residential customers, food spoilage claims of $150 or less must include an itemized list. Food spoilage claims over $150 must include an itemized list and proof of loss, including a cash register tapes, store or credit card receipts, canceled checks or photographs of spoiled items.

Separately, customers will be reimbursed for losses, up to a maximum of $300, for prescription medications that spoiled due to lack of refrigeration. Customers must provide an itemized list of the medications and proof of loss with, for example, a pharmacy prescription label or pharmacy receipt identifying the medicine.

Commercial customers applying for reimbursement must supply an itemized list of spoiled food and proof of loss with invoices, inventory lists or bank statements.

Customers can apply for reimbursement at www.psegliny.com/claims. PSEG said claims cannot be processed over the phone.

Customers will have until Sept. 16 to file claims. Reimbursement is expected to take up to 60 business days from when a form is completed and submitted to PSEG Long Island.

The storm knocked out power to over 420,000 customers on Long Island and the Rockaways, according to a release from PSEG. The company claimed it had been the “the most destructive storm since Superstorm Sandy.” Almost 400,000 people lost power because of the storm, though more experienced outages in subsequent days due to further storms.

For weeks, both residents and elected officials have called on the utility company to offer reimbursement for lost food or medicines while power was out. Some customers didn’t reportedly have power restored until more than a week after the storm hit Aug. 4.

Officials from both parties have been hammering the utility company for the past two weeks over its storm response. New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has not only called for reimbursement for PSEG customers, but for the heads of both PSEG and the Long Island Power Authority to step down.

“PSEG’s change in policy for food and medicine reimbursement is a direct result of our efforts to hold PSEG’s feet to the fire” Gaughran said after the reimbursement policy was announced. “The public is owed many more answers by PSEG leadership as to their failed storm response, but this change in policy is welcome news by the half a million families who were left in the dark for days on end.”

PSEG Long Island President Daniel Eichhorn has said the decision came because of understanding the financial straits people are in because of the coronavirus.

“We recognize that losing power in August, together with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a hardship for many of our customers,” Eichhorn said in a release. “Given the unique combination of circumstances, we believe the right thing to do is to expand our claims process to ease the burden on the customers most impacted by Tropical Storm Isaias.”

A mountainous pile of plant and tree debris at one of Brookhaven's highway yards where the material is being cut up and mulched. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Officials from the Town of Brookhaven highways department said they were still in the process of picking up all debris from Tropical Storm Isaias that residents put out to the curb Sunday, Aug. 9. It may be another two weeks for the town to fully pick up every tree limb and leaf.

A mountainous pile of plant and tree debris at one of Brookhaven’s highway yards where the material is being cut up and mulched. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The town originally asked residents to bring organic debris strewn about by Tropical Storm Isaias to the curb by Sunday, Aug. 9 for pickup the following day. In a statement, town Highways Superintendent Dan Losquadro said the amount of debris has meant it has taken time to get to every single street in the thousands of miles of town roads. All debris is being taken to 18 highway department yards and temporary staging areas across the town.

“We appreciate residents getting their debris to the curb in a timely fashion,” Losquadro said in a statement. “I anticipate it will take at least another two weeks before we are able to get to all 3,700 lane miles of road in Brookhaven town. If we have not made our way to your neighborhood yet, please leave all brush and debris at the curb for this one-time bulk collection.”

A spokesperson for the highways department said the town is broken up into four quadrants, and the head of each quadrant is effectively going through it street by street to make sure all the debris is cleaned up. This, combined with the excess amount of debris kicked up by Isaias is why it has taken long for some streets to see pickup. Otherwise roads that are being milled or paved have been given priority.

Officials asked that residents keep the debris in front of their house in the time being until the pickup process has concluded.

In a town board meeting Aug. 13, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked the town highway workers who he said have been working 12 to 14 hour shifts working on the cleanup effort. The town saw over 1,600 trees come down, and more than 400 were involved with power lines.

A car crushed by a tree in Miller place after strong winds by Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by Kyle Barr

We imagine that if you’re looking into your fridge and not finding any cold air coming out, that you’re smelling the milk starting to curdle and watching the meat in the freezer becoming wet and discolored, that you likely don’t want to hear anything else but the sound of heads rolling.

One has every right to be angry when the response to a storm like Isaias has been so clumsy. Reportedly, PSEG Long Island was ready for the storm but communications were not, and they continue to be confusing and out of touch. While the utility company puts out daily or even bi-daily releases about numbers of people who have gotten their power back online, the web and mobile app for reporting outages still show too many people lacking power. Either the reporting app is broken, or the lines of communication have broken down.

For a utility that promises so much of its reporting technology, residents would expect some timely communication, at the very least. Residents had a constant refrain over the past week that the timetables for when their street’s repairs would be done kept getting moved. A week after the storm, by Monday, 17,000 on Long Island still lacked power, according to the utility company, even though their own map showed at least 30,000 more potentially lacked any power out of the original 420,000.

PSEG has a lot to answer for, especially with the $40 million annual contract (plus incentives) that the Long Island Power Authority pays the utility company to handle Long Island’s electrical infrastructure.

Electeds at every level have come down on the utility company. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has requested an inquiry into PSEG’s handling of the storm. New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) has obliged and will conduct an investigation, according to a Newsday report that was confirmed by PSEG. Cuomo has also threatened to pull PSEG’s contract.

Should PSEG be responsible for people’s spoiled food and other financial hits due to loss of power? The many people who lost hundreds of dollars worth of food and medicine would certainly agree, especially those who can ill afford to lose an ounce of that during a pandemic, when many have lost jobs and unemployment benefits. The company should absolutely buckle up and support the people who need it most, especially since we still do not know just how much the 18 heads of PSEG make in salary of their multimillion dollar contract with LIPA.

But the speed and readiness that officials were ready to pounce on the utility company displays a different sort of callousness, especially in an election year. To say PSEG has become a punching bag is too quaint of a depiction for how much politicians want to make easy villains out of complicated issues. Some politicians have made going after PSEG and LIPA the cornerstone of their campaigns. Some have called for the heads of each organization to resign.

But tackling the challenges of supplying power to Long Island takes more than a readiness to plant a boot on the back of whatever company was taped with a “kick me” sign.

Isaias will not be the last major storm this season. If we’re unlucky, there could be even worse storms that hit our little sandbar called Long Island. That is where our heads should be, shoring up the infrastructure to ensure PSEG’s response does not repeat itself and getting behind initiatives that can prevent widespread damage, instead of having more people ready to clean up the aftermath.

New York is right to move toward a future where the majority of energy comes from renewable technologies. For the sake of the future of our planet, we have no choice. More than that, we need to think about our planet with the ferociousness we do when our lights stop working. Hurricanes are unrelenting. We must be as well.

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

PSEG Long Island plans to restore power to the remaining 400 Long Island customers by midnight who haven’t had electricity since last Tuesday, when Tropical Storm Isaias hit.

“We remain committed to getting all customers related to last Tuesday’s storm restored by midnight tonight,” PSEG President and Chief Operating Office Daniel Eichhorn said on a media call Wednesday.

PSEG has 6,500 line workers and tree trimmers who are working to restore power from a host of states and continues to accept any other workers who are available.

This morning, PSEG moved workers from New Jersey, where it is headquartered.

Eichhorn assured residents that their bills would reflect the energy they used, which means that they won’t have to pay for electricity during the time their power was out.

The total number of outages in Long Island, including those who have been without power since the storm hit, stands at 10,500, which is a number that might increase this evening amid the predicted thunderstorms. Of those who are out, approximately 7,500 have lost power related to the storm, although Eichhorn said they are unlikely to have been without power for over a week.

Amid concerns about the pace of restoring power, the number of homes and businesses who were out and a communications problem on the day of the storm that made it difficult for residents to connect with their power company, Eichhorn said PSEG plans to use this experience to improve on the company’s storm-related processes.

Once the company restores power, PSEG will do a self assessment, which will include a “deep dive” into “lessons learned,” at which point the company will make immediate and long term changes to makes sure they are ready for the next storm.

Indeed, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) joined a growing chorus of politicians who expressed their concerns about the company’s readiness for the remainder of the hurricane season, which extends through the end of November.

“As we move towards the fall, we could be struck with a much more significant storm than this tropical storm,” Bellone said on a separate media call. “If that is the case, these issues need to be fixed. They need to be resolved before then.”

Eichhorn said PSEG hasn’t given much thought at this point to making the company’s assessment about its performance during the storm public.

Meanwhile, New York State Senator James Gaughran (D-Northport) called for the resignation of Eichhorn and Long Island Power Authority President Thomas Falcone.

Asked about the call for his resignation, Eichhorn said he was “aware of that” and the response of the company to the storm will be “part of our lessons learned and review. I’m pretty proud of the restoration efforts from our team. People have worked extremely hard and are very dedicated.”

Eichhorn added that PSEG would look into the IT issues that caused the frustration from customers and would “get better” and “make sure, for the next storm” they are “fully prepared.”

Eichhorn said he recognized the frustration people have been feeling, especially during a pandemic. Amid a discussion of residents in Cold Spring Harbor who blocked in a utility crew, preventing them from leaving until they restored electricity, Eichhorn said he understood that it’s a tough time to lose power, especially when so many people are working from home.

Still, he urged residents not to limit the ability of crews to react to the order of jobs. When crews are blocked in, they might help one or two homes or families at the expense of 100 or 200, he said.

PSEG wasn’t prepared today to discuss the possibility of reimbursing families for lost food during the outages, even as several politicians, including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) requested that the company provide $500 to each household that lost power for more than two days.

“Our plan is to really focus on making sure we get customers’ [power] back today,” Eichhorn said. “Tomorrow, we’ll start looking at those other decisions.”

A tree lies across Old Post Road East in Mount Sinai after Tropical Storm Isais. Photo by Kyle Barr

While crews from several states continued to restore power this week after the outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, frustrated residents and politicians expressed their dismay at PSEG for the pace at which they were restoring power and for the communications problems from a storm that passed more than a week earlier.

Indeed, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) characterized PSEG’s response to the storm as “underwhelming” and “disappointing.” He expressed further frustration at the moving target PSEG had for restoring power.

Romaine called on PSEG to give families and businesses that lost power for more than 48 hours $500 to cover the cost of lost food. He also said he plans to send Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) a letter calling for the appointment of an independent arbitrator who could hear the claims of businesses in a “swift” and proper manner.

President and Chief Operating Officer of PSEG Long Island Dan Eichhorn said the company is still discussing any possible reimbursement to customers and hasn’t made a final assessment.

Meanwhile, State Attorney General Letitia James (D) launched an investigation of PSEG in connection with their response to a storm that knocked out power to 420,000 customers.

As of mid-day Tuesday, a week after the storm hit, 3,800 homes were without power directly from the storm. At the same time, PSEG Long Island reported 25,142 total customers without power, which includes new outages after the storm.

Eichhorn acknowledged the call for accountability from local and state leaders.

“We know there’s been a couple of agencies that want to come in and do an investigation and audits,” Eichhorn said in a press conference Sunday night. “The way I would characterize this storm [is that we] did a very good job of preparing for it. Our communications were not up to our expectations. We know that created a lot of angst.”

PSEG, which has operated under the direction of LIPA since 2014, planned to conduct its own internal analysis.

“We do recognize that our communications channels did not meet our customers’ expectations. We’re going to look at that immediately, make fixes” and will improve those processes, Eichhorn said.

PSEG has maintained during the aftermath of Isaias that the communications problems did not impede the company’s ability to restore power and that it brought in numerous additional crews and continued to request additional staff even on Tuesday.

Over the weekend and into the beginning of the week, PSEG Long Island brought in close to 2,000 more lineworkers, tree trimmers and other personnel, bringing the total to over 6,000,

That compares with the Long Island crews and contractors the company operates on a daily basis of about 600 people, bringing the response teams to about 10 times the usual operating staff levels.

Eichhorn said the crews were practicing safe social distancing protocols and were also polled prior to the start of work about how they were feeling. The PSEG executive recognized the frustration residents have felt during the outage.

“We know customers have waited a long time,” Eichhorn said.

Several politicians have threatened consequences for PSEG’s storm response, including Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) who floated the idea of revoking the franchise. Eichhorn suggested the company’s legal team would consider Cuomo’s comments.

Romaine said PSEG sent in four crews to Brookhaven, the largest town by area in the state, the first day and 10 the second. Given the number of downed trees, Romaine said he believes that should have been closer to 30.

Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said the area was fortunate this wasn’t a bigger storm because a larger hurricane, with more rain and more intense winds, could have caused more of the population to lose power for a longer period of time.

Residents were upset that they couldn’t talk to somebody at PSEG to get answers.

Starting in 2015, PSEG received $729 million secured by Cuomo over a three-year period to strengthen the resiliency of the electric grid.

Eichhorn said that investment protected many of the customers who would otherwise have lost their power during this storm.

Local leaders, however, didn’t feel so fortunate.

“This is something that was not supposed to happen again,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Seatuket) said.

Englebright further said his office has heard of numerous problematic situations in restoring power, including in the S section of Stony Brook, where one side of a street had power and the other didn’t. When residents saw a repair truck and expressed their appreciation and excitement about power returning, the crew told them they were “here for the other side of the street” and drove off, Englebright said.

Englebright recognized the context for solutions to the ongoing problem of restoring power after major storms, including hurricanes that could come during this active season later this year.

He urged a short term plan, in which the area could return to the way things stood the week before last, and a long term plan, which could include more than cutting overhanging branches before storms wreak havoc.

Englebright and Romaine urged the area to consider burying some vulnerable lines. Romaine suggested burying one to two percent of the lines for the next several decades, increasing the resilience of the grid.

This storm serves as a wake-up call for the area, said Englebright, who lost power for four days and whose mother in Stony Brook lost power for five days.

To prepare for the storms that may come later this year, Long Island should have fuel depots with generators that are fitted for gas stations to prevent a shortage of gas, which occurred in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Englebright said. He also urged greater preparation for people who are home bound and who need special medicine.

Tropical Storm Isaias uprooted a tree in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The Town of Brookhaven will conduct a one-time only bulk collection of storm debris on Monday, Aug. 10. All debris must be placed at the curb by the evening of Sunday, Aug. 9.

Branches, leaves and other vegetative debris from the storm should be brought curbside for bulk collection by town crews utilizing heavy equipment.

The town asked that residents do not put any non-vegetative debris out. Storm debris mixed with household garbage or construction debris will not be picked up.

Officials also asked that people keep fire hydrants and mailboxes clear of any debris that is brought to the curb. Any storm debris brought to the curb after Sunday, Aug. 9 won’t be picked up as part of this one-time
bulk collection and will be subject to ordinary yard waste rules requiring branches to be cut in four-foot sections and bundled for collection.