Gianaris: TV Tapes Show Con Ed Knew Size Of Blackout From The Start
Citing a television news report that Con Edison field crews were "clearly aware" of the seriousness of last summer's power blackout soon after it started, Assemblymember Michael Gianaris has renewed his call for the giant utility's management to be held accountable for what occurred afterward.
Referring to the material shown by WABCTV last Friday evening, Gianaris said, "These tapes make clear that Con Edison knew on the first day of the blackout that more people were affected than it was reporting.
"Con Edison management recklessly endangered the lives of Western Queens residents by releasing figures that were absurdly low, and they must be held accountable for this outrageously irresponsible behavior."
Gianaris (D- Astoria) pointed out that the Public Service Commission (PSC) recently stated that the number of residents affected by the power failure was approximately 174,000.
But throughout the first four days of the outage, Gianaris said, Con Edison's reports of the number affected never went higher than 2,180 customers. "By their actions, Con Edison officials misled emergency response officials who then did not commit the necessary resources to the affected area until after the numbers were revised upwards," Gianaris charged.
The blackout, which began on July 17 and lasted more than a week, was the longest power outage in the history of New York City, Gianaris said. It affected Astoria, Long Island City, Woodside and Sunnyside.
Besides the huge numbers of residents affected and the losses they suffered, thousands of businesses sustained millions of dollars in damages. Some were forced to go out of business.
According to Gianaris, the WABC-TV (Channel 7) investigative team obtained audio tapes of Con Ed field crews discussing the severity of the blackout as early as two hours after it began on July 17.
The lawmaker said that in the tapes the Con Ed employees described miles of darkness in all directions, thousands of outages and several square blocks without power.
"In one instance," Gianaris said, "an employee stated that he had never witnessed anything like it."
Gianaris, who was one of those without power both at his Astoria home and his office, said that Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown is presently investigating whether any crime was committed by Con Ed management through purposely downplaying the severity of the crisis in its early days.
The Assemblymember noted that the city administration has stated that more resources would have been committed to the affected area earlier had Con Edison been reporting accurate information about the size of the outage, meaning that people's lives were endangered as a result of the false information that was being disseminated by Con Edison.
Following the long power outage, Gianaris formed a state Assembly Task Force that investigated what he described as the failures of the huge utility and the PSC during the Western Queens blackout. The task force, comprised of energy industry experts, issued its findings last month, identifying needed improvements for both Con Ed and the PSC. To obtain a copy of the report, contact Gianaris' office at 718-545-3889.