FEMA to fund $1.4 billion in utility repairs and mitigation


Long Island’s utilities, long due for an upgrade, should see major improvements over the next few years thanks to a $1.4 billion agreement between New York state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the arrangement on Feb. 21, explaining that the money would come from federal recovery funds, and would be directed to the repair and strengthening of the power grid — a long-awaited permanent fix after the massive damage wreaked by Hurricane Sandy in late 2012, which left 90 percent of the Long Island Power Authority’s 1.1 million customers, including those in Oceanside and Island Park, without power.

On Jan. 1, LIPA’s operations were taken over by PSEG Long Island.

“This funding will allow the State to dramatically improve the power grid, including elevating lines and repairing substations without raising rates for Long Island’s residents and businesses,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We need to reimagine New York for the new reality of extreme weather, and I want to thank FEMA for providing this new support to help us build back better and stronger than ever before.”

According to the governor’s office, 90 percent of the funding will come from FEMA, and the remainder will be drawn from Community Development Block Grant funds from the Department of Housing & Urban Development. The sum will be split roughly in half, with $705 million going toward repairs to the grid and $730 million set aside for future storm mitigation.

As part of the agreement, FEMA has pledged to take an innovative approach to improving storm resiliency, allowing the state the flexibility to determine the most effective form of mitigation for the 1,025 miles of vulnerable and previously damaged circuits in the grid. The funding will also cover the elevation of damaged substations, “sectionalizing” switches across the grid in order to minimize outages, and relocating appropriate power circuits underground.

“We’re not just building back the same,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said of the agreement. “We’re building back stronger so that the next time a superstorm hits, the lights don’t go off across Long Island. This generous amount of funding from the federal Hurricane Sandy relief bill will make sure that Long Islanders, who saw such miserable service during the storm, will not be on the hook for the repairs and improvements to the system.”

News about improvements to substations, including their elevation, should be of particular interest to Island Park residents. The outdated E.F. Barrett Power Station, in Barnum’s Channel, has had two fires since the storm, and National Grid recently proposed repowering the station — an expensive prospect for taxpayers, and for the Island Park School District, which derives nearly half of its budget, in the form of tax revenue, from the station. Should a new Island Park energy center replace the Barrett Station, much of the funding could come from the capital secured through the agreement, though that has yet to be determined.

According to the governor’s office, the agreement is intended to give ratepayers on Long Island protection against future outages, and to provide the financial resources necessary to make improvements to the utility system without the need to raise rates — thus fitting neatly into PSEG Long Island’s plan to keep rates frozen over the next few years.

“With these funds, we will be able to make significant improvements to the system — improvements that will help us better withstand the impact of extreme weather, helping to reduce outages to our customers,” said Jeff Weir, director of communications at PSEG LI. “Part of the improvement program will include protecting substations, installing sectionalizing devices, hardening overhead lines and undergrounding targeted overhead lines.”