Lawmakers want feds to oversee power fixes

Newsday -- by Robert Brodsky

As more than 100,000 Long Islanders approached the end of their second full week without electricity, a contingent of angry and frustrated local and federal lawmakers from Nassau County urged the Obama administration Friday to assume control of the LIPA power restoration effort.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Steve Israel (D-Huntington) argued at a news conference in Bethpage that LIPA was incapable of getting the power restored for Long Island residents and should now take a backseat to the federal government.

The lawmakers called on the White House to deploy every available resource, including manpower and equipment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Department and the Department of Energy.

"The power condition is beyond urgent," Mangano said. "While LIPA linesman have been working day and night to restore power, LIPA management has once again fallen down on the job."

While officials concede that LIPA cannot be legally removed from the operation, they want the federal government to assume control of the larger operation, including communicating with the public, acquiring generators and pumps, removing debris and developing a master plan to restore power across Nassau and Suffolk.

"People are desperate for information," said State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). "They need the information from LIPA and the federal government. When are they going to respond to the human needs out there . . . This is our Katrina."

But, LIPA is under no legal compulsion to accept the federal government's logistical assistance, King said.

"There is no legal authority for an actual takeover," he said. "But, hopefully this will encourage LIPA to realize this is for real and this is serious."

LIPA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Israel said the Defense Department is uniquely qualified to restore power, as the Army Corps of Engineers turned the lights back on in Iraq and Afghanistan during military operations.

"We don't need to turn the lights back in Kabul and Baghdad," he said. "We need turn the lights back on in Plainview and Great Neck and the South Shore."

The White House and the Department of Energy referred calls to FEMA which did not respond to requests for comment. A Defense Department spokesman said appeals for federal intervention would come from FEMA but that the Pentagon has yet to receive such a request.

King said he expects an answer from the White House within the next several days.

Israel also has asked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to bring in James Lee Witt, former FEMA director, who managed the recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana, to manage the restoration of power. Lee Witt, he said, agreed Friday morning to take over the effort if asked.

"He's considered to be no nonsense, no excuses and no-red-tape expert at solving major problems," Israel said.