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Tropical Storm

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.

A tree falls on a mail carrier truck on Old Post Road in Setauket. Photo by Kyle Barr

Sustained winds of over 40 miles per hour, with gusts of over 65 miles per hour from Tropical Storm Isaias, knocked out power to over 440,000 customers, according to PSEG.

The storm uprooted a tree in St. James. Photo by Rita J. Egan

As of 9:45 am on Thursday, fewer than 140,000 customers were still without power, as PSEG said it had restored power to about 300,000 customers.

The utility expects to restore power to 85% of its customers by the end of the day on Friday, while the remaining percentage should have power by the end of the day on Saturday. PSEG tree crews and contracts have cleared 500 locations.

Customers of PSE&G were so frustrated with their inability to get through to the power company duringt the storm that they flooded the 911 phone lines, causing an increase of 400% in the volume of calls.

“That is related to communication issues that were experienced by PSE&G, where customers had a difficult time getting through or were unable to get through to report outages,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said during a press conference on Wednesday to provide an update after the storm.

Bellone suggested it was “too early to diagnose what the problem was” at PSE&G, but that is it “critical that we determine that for storms moving forward.”

Other New York officials, such as State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) have called for an investigation of the public utility. Just a day after the storm, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he was directing the state Department of Public Service to launch an investigation in PSEG Long Island, along with other utility companies in New York on what went wrong with service restoration.

While Bellone stopped short of urging an investigation into the communication problems for customers, he urged an “analysis and understanding of what happened. This was a major problem. Communications in a storm is critical. We need to understand why it happened.”

PSEG insisted that the challenges with its communication systems didn’t impact the company’s efforts to restore power. Crews have been able to assess the damage and send teams to affected neighborhoods.

“We have overcome many of the issues with Verizon that affected our call center operations yesterday,” Daniel Eichhorn, president and chief operating officer of PSEG said in a statement. “We understand how critical it is to share accurate and timely information with our customers and we continue working diligently to fully resolve these issues.”

PSEG indicated it understood the importance of sharing accurate and timely information and is seeing improvements in call center operations.

The company is “working diligently to improve all of our systems to fully resolve these issues,” and urges customers to use the automated voice response system, if possible, at (800) 490-0075.

PSEG is opening four customer outreach centers, starting at 10 am on Wednesday, which is providing free water and ice in a drive-through service. The locations are at 175 East Old Country Road in Hicksville, 250 Willis Avenue in Roslyn, 288 Pulaski Road in Greenlawn and 1650 Islip Avenue in Brentwood.

A tree lies across Old Post Road East in Mount Sinai after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

The company has sent out 2,000 crews, including workers from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Alabama, Kansas and Missouri. The crews will work 16-hour shifts around the clock until they have restored power. The teams will restore critical facilities first, then outages that affect the most people and then outages that affect smaller numbers or individual customers.

PSEG reminded customers that downed wires should always be considered live. A safe distance is at least 30 feet away. Customers who see downed wires should call 911. The company also reminded residents not to drive over or stand near downed power lines. Large pools of standing water could be dangerous because wires could be hidden in them. PSEG urged people to stop, back up and take another path if they see downed wires.

The county received 250 calls for downed trees and limbs on county roadways. Most of those were cleared by the early morning. As of mid-morning on Wednesday, five roads, including four in Huntington and one in Islip, remained partially closed. These are routes 17, 67, 86, 35 and 9.

Bellone said PSEG is aware of the outages and is working to restore power throughout the county.

Despite the calm after the storm, the county facilities, including golf courses, remained closed around midday Wednesday.

“We’re hoping to have those back online [Wednesday] afternoon,” Bellone said.

Smith Point County Park is also closed for swimming, as the outage has cut power to bathroom facilities.

Brookhaven Town’s Holtsville Pool is closed. Brookhaven’s town beaches are open, but Davis Park, Great Gun and Ho Hum beaches all have red flag conditions, which prevents swimming and limits water access to knee-deep wading.

Access to West Meadow Beach is also limited because of fallen trees in the area.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) urged residents to report fallen trees, damage from town roadside trees, flooding or other storm damage to call 631-451- TOWN or go to BrookhavenNy.gov/StormDamage.

Current models show Tropical Storm Isaias will hit Long Island with the strongest winds of the storm. Photo from National Hurricane Center

As Tropical Storm Isaias climbs from the southeast coast towards Long Island, county officials are deploying resources in the event of any damage from the wind and rain and encouraging residents to track the storm and, if necessary, avoid travel tomorrow.

The worst of the storm, which could have winds of 39 miles per hour to 55 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 65 miles per hour, may hit the island in the afternoon through the evening. Most of the county could get between two inches and three inches of rain, with one to two inches on the east end.

“When you consider the amount of rain we’re talking about, if we get hit with those numbers, that is a serious event,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a press conference today.

Bellone urged residents to secure loose objects or bring them inside on Monday to prevent any damage.

Residents who lose power can text OUT to PSE&G at 773454. Residents can also report an outage online, assuming they have the ability to connect online, through PSEGLINY.com, or they can call (800) 490-0075.

The storm surge could bring as much as 10 to 15 feet of breaking surf on Tuesday afternoon. The vulnerable shoreline could also have two to three feet of flooding with the high tide on Tuesday between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Suffolk County is prepared to handle evacuations, although Bellone said such actions aren’t expected.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) suggested in an email that customers remain in their homes while PSE&G crews are working nearby. If residents need to speak with representatives of the utility, PSE&G urged residents to practice social distancing and remain at least six feet away.

Hahn also suggested that residents keep their cell phones and tablets charged so they have a full battery. Lowering screen brightness and shutting down applications preserves battery life.

Bellone urged people to stay away from flooded streets. Cars that get trapped or that stall in flooded waters drain resources from the county, requiring rescue for the occupants of the vehicle.

The Emergency Operations Center, which has been active for months in the midst of the pandemic, is up and running and will have increased hours. The staffing at the center includes members of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, the Suffolk County Police Department, the Sheriff’s office, the Department of Public Works, the Red Cross, Long Island Railroad, the State Police and PSE&G.

The SCPD has deployed humvees to each of their precincts to prepare them for the storm. The Department of Public Works has also pre-deployed a number of resources, such as 62 chain saws, 13 full saw, 22 10-wheeled dump tracks, 35 debris clearance crews, among other machines and crews.

“All of that diverse equipment is pre-deployed and prepared to go in case we need to clear roads, address flooding or help evacuate individuals,” Bellone said.

Bellone urged residents to sign up for the Suffolk County code red emergency notification system, which provides customized messages to residents. People can sign up through the we site suffolkcountyny.gov/department/fres. The code red sign up is on the right side in blue.

Bellone urged residents to monitor the media for updates and to track the progress of the storm. Even if this storm doesn’t bring considerable damage, it may provide a dry run for what could be an active hurricane season, which will occur in the midst of the county’s ongoing efforts to recover from the pandemic caused by COVID-19.

This fall, in particular, could present numerous contemporaneous challenges, with the COVID threat, possible flu outbreaks, and the start of an uncertain school year.

Long Beach, Smithtown: Visitors to Smithtown’s Long Beach, a narrow land spit, will find an artificial berm to keep stormwater out during the winter. Many of the private roads slightly east of the town beach experience flooding when it’s high tide. Larry Swanson, interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, said the cause of the problem is the disruption of sediment due to a combination of rising sea levels and homeowners building sea walls to protect their property. “Long Beach is a spit that needs sediment supplied from the erosion of the bluffs of Nissequogue,” he said. “There are places where the supply is somewhat diminished to maintain sufficient elevation, perhaps where currents are stronger than elsewhere water can overflow.” Photo by Rita J. Egan

With Tropical Storm Fay heading towards Long Island, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said Long Island was expecting rainfall through 3 a.m.

Bellone urged residents to “stay alert” and “secure any loose objects to prevent damage.” He also suggested that people avoid travel and not to attempt to drive over a flooded road.

Residents who want to report outages can text OUT to 773454 (or PSEGLI). Those who can get online can report the outage to PSEGLINY.com or call (800) 490-0075.

The viral numbers continued to remain within the range of their recent low-infection pattern.

Among 6,245 residents who received tests, 62 of them tested positive, for a rate of 1 percent. That brings the total for the county who have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic to 41,711.

The county had 20,301 residents who tested positive for the antibody but who hadn’t had a prior test for the virus.

Hospitalizations rose by two to 54, while the number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by 1 to 10.

Hospital bed occupancy was at 70 percent overall and at 60 percent for ICU beds.

One person died in the last day, increasing the total of losses for families, neighbors and communities to 1,992.

A dozen people were discharged from the hospital in the last day.

Next week, residents can pre-register for antibody tests at three locations. They need to call (833) 433-7369.

Bellone urged the legislature to allow voters to consider two ballot measures that would allow the county to use up to $50 million of funds to plug the budgetary shortfall created by the economic collapse triggered by the lockdown.

“To address this fiscal crisis, we should do everything we possibly can to avoid two things: laying off essential workers and adding significant new tax burdens on our homeowners during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters.

While some environmental groups have opposed the moves, Bellone said neither measure would “take a dime away from existing environmental programs” and suggested that they were “common sense measures” designed to avoid increasing taxes or laying off essential employees.

The county has to create a budget, which Bellone hopes includes financial help at the federal level, to close a gap that could be as high as $839 million by September.

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The home at 182 Shore Road near Satterly Landing. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Hurricane Sandy left many homes in shambles, including 182 Shore Road in Mount Sinai.

The storm flooded the property, which stands near Satterly Landing, four years ago. The owner sold the parcel to New York Rising, which is a home recover program that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) initially established to help homeowners affected by Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Town of Brookhaven purchased the piece of land last October-November and will allow nature to take over, as the space is not suitable for construction or reconstruction of a home.

“[There] will always be a problem with flooding, so we’re just going to incorporate it into Satterly [Landing],” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

Brookhaven is also evaluating another property on the block that has been around for two decades, examining it because of issues with its structure.