Lawmakers Blast Con Ed
Con Edison's report on this past summer's blackout in Northwest Queens was issued last week. It was greeted with derision by local lawmakers, who promised to continue searching for the right answers to the causes and remedies to prevent a repeat in the future.
City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. wants a probe by the federal government into the disaster and a monitor "to ensure the company's lawful operation".
Assemblymember Michael Gianaris stated "dramatic reform" of the giant utility is necessary. His independent investigation of its failures last July will continue.
Congressmember Joseph Crowley called the 600-page report "an important step" for Con Ed, but said it must establish stronger outreach to immigrant communities and poorer neighborhoods. He will continue to monitor the utility's operations.
Councilmember Eric Gioia described the report as merely "a lot of pages but not a lot of answers". "[It] seems to be a corporate smoke screen," he said.
Con Ed Chairman and CEO Kevin Burke, who was hit with a storm of criticism during the blackout and afterward, explained after the report was issued: "Our employees were equally frustrated. We know
that the trust that we had with our customers was shaken, and the steps that we're taking and we're announcing today are going to rebuild that trust."
The report said that a detailed, in depth analysis conducted by Con Ed engineers had found "an unprecedented series of events ...during a period of record electrical use" caused the outage, which would eventually leave about 100,000 people without electricity and do serious damage to many businesses.
The report said that maintaining the network and working to repair it prevented further spread of the outage to 90,000 additional customers and to hundreds of thousands of public transportation users.
Among the improvements that will be undertaken, the report said, is a $58 million investment in the Long Island City network. Advancing the construction of a new substation in Northwest Queens to enhance reliability to customers by next year is being studied.
Responding to the many complaints that Con Ed did not adequately reach out to customers during the outage, the report says 250 telephone lines are being added to the company's call centers, increasing the number of lines to 650; a better system to track outages will be installed; a system to report electrical outages will be improved, and by next summer,
the feasibility of installing electric meters that alert the company when a customer is out of service will be reviewed.
Addressing the changes proposed, Crowley (D-Queens/The Bronx) stated: "Con Ed needs to be held accountable to carry out this upgrade before next summer's peak season."
Regarding Con Ed's getting information out to customers, Crowley said he had urged the utility to take steps in establishing stronger outreach with immigrant and poor neighborhoods through sharing information in different languages, utilizing ethnic media and creating an effective information sharing network with community service organizations.
Crowley concluded, "The report is an important step for Con Ed in communicating with the public as to what happened and what the company is doing to avoid a crisis on this scale again. But I will continue to monitor Con Ed and ensure that they implement the changes necessary in this report."
Gianaris (D-Astoria) said, "Three months after the longest blackout in New York City's history, Con Ed still doesn't get it. Con Ed's insistence that it was better to leave over 100,000 people in the dark for over a week rather than reboot the network for a day flies in the face of the suffering of the people of Queens."
The assemblymember added: "The fact is that dramatic reform of Con Ed is necessary and it will not come from Con Ed itself. In the coming months, I will propose real changes to decrease the likelihood that a catastrophe like this is ever repeated."
Gianaris is leading an independent Assembly Task Force investigation of Con Ed's failures during the Queens blackout. The Task Force will issue its findings and recommendations before the end of the year, he said.
In a tart response to the Con Ed report, Vallone (D-Astoria) charged, "This report is worthless. It's Con Ed saying, We won't do it again, trust us.' Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
He continued, "Con Ed is blaming the cables, but not the people who allowed the cables to rot. Con Ed is blaming the 'system' for its failure to grasp the extent of the damage, not the people who put that system in place. This is Con Ed placing blame but holding no one accountable. Like Con Ed, this report has shed little light and provides no assistance to those harmed."
The day before the Con Ed report was issued, Vallone, chair of the council Public Safety Committee, called upon the federal government to conduct an investigation into the corporate actions at Con Ed and, if necessary, appoint a monitor to ensure the company's lawful operation.
He said there was precedent for the action he proposed-such a monitor was appointed over the company in 1989 after a pipe explosion on the Upper East Side.
"The company has shown time and time again that it does not willingly police itself, leading to injury to many New Yorkers," Vallone said.