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Utilities Discuss Sandy Challenges Before City Council

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On Day 3 of the City Council’s Hurricane Sandy oversight hearings, it was Con Edison facing tough questions about its ability to keep the lights on the next time a big storm hits. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

Like so many, Con Edison said it was simply overwhelmed by Hurricane Sandy. It said it could've handled 10-foot storm surge, but not 14 feet.

"I don’t think anyone predicted or forecasted 14-foot tides," said John Miksad, senior vice president with Con Edison.

The result was 800,000 customers losing power, many thanks to flooding at Manhattan’s 13th Street substation, which produced a dramatic arcing effect.

Con Ed said it’s spending $250 million dollars in the short term to protect critical equipment.

"13th Street substation, as well as the other substations, will be protected for a Sandy-like storm, if it should occur this summer," Miksad said.

City Council legislation would study the possibility of burying overhead power lines. Con Ed supports the bill. Some council members said it’s a fairness issue.

"We need to be brought into the 21st Century, us outer-borough folks, people of Staten Island, people in the Bronx or Queens," said Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. "If Manhattan has the service and has had it for over a century, then we deserve the same service. So study or not, it has to get done."

But Con Ed said putting the entire overhead system underground could cost $25 billion. The total cost of the storm, meanwhile, was about $450 million.

Officials said they’re aware of, and working on, communication issues.

"Con Ed would show up, they would say, 'It’s the homeowner’s responsibility to get an electrician,'" said Brooklyn Councilman Domenic Recchia. "A private electrician would come and say, 'It’s a Con Ed problem.' Hundreds of homes this happened to."

"One of the biggest complaints I got during the storm was once the lights went out in people’s areas, we were unable to give them any idea when they may get their power back," said Queens Councilman Mark Weprin.

After three consecutive days of hearings, the City Council will take a break before resuming next Thursday, with a look at the preparedness and response at city health care facilities, including hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes.

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