Ready or Not For Heavy Weather

Local governments on the South Fork and the power authority had a test run last August

   It is hurricane season again, so public officials and the utilities are beginning to make all the usual pronouncements about how well prepared they are in case a storm strikes. This evening at 6, the supervisors of East Hampton, Southampton, and Shelter Island are to appear at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton with State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Michael Hervey, the Long Island Power Authority’s chief operating officer, to hear about what the company is doing to get ready.
    Local governments on the South Fork and the power authority had a test run last August as Hurricane and Tropical Storm Irene crossed to the west. From that near-miss, many observers concluded that LIPA would have come up short in the event of a real disaster. Power outages lingered surprisingly long in some areas even though crews worked nearly around the clock to restore power to more than 500,000 customers across Long Island —- this from a weakened storm whose center did not pass over it.
    East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. spoke for many last year when he gave LIPA a grade of C minus for its response, and, he said, that was “being gracious.” Mr. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle were also critical.
    Public pleas for the utility to put more of its electric lines underground and out of harm’s way go unanswered year after year because of cost. LIPA has conducted regular tree-trimming to keep lines from falling in storms, but it’s a good bet it has not done quite enough. Nor, from what we can tell, has a communication deficit from East Hampton Town Hall been addressed.
    Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who is expected to attend this evening’s session, might take a moment to speak with his Southampton counterpart, Anna Throne-Holst, who is also on the guest list. Southampton outpaced East Hampton by far last year in getting updates out to residents and visitors as Irene approached. As we noted last year, Southampton issued advisories every couple of hours and did its best to keep the public informed through a variety of media outlets. The few messages from Mr. Wilkinson’s office were confusing and trivial at best. He might want to ask Ms. Throne-Holst how she did it.
    Also important was the Town of East Hampton’s failure to close off low-lying oceanfront road-ends. One neighborhood association on Napeague took it upon itself to sandbag a critical gap in the dunes when town help didn’t arrive. Downtown Montauk and the Ditch Plain neighborhood are essentially at sea level, so it wasn’t surprising that water poured in unimpeded through man-made openings.
    Predictions about hurricanes are by nature highly speculative. Scientists can estimate how many may arise in a given year, but cannot say even as late as a day or two before exactly where one will make landfall. Judging from the inadequate preparation and responses to 2011’s Irene, eastern Long Island’s elected leaders and its monopoly power company have a lot of work to do. This evening’s meeting will be meaningless without measurable changes to back up officials’ best intentions.