A worker positions himself to repair electrical lines as Long Islanders… (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images )
With criticism mounting and thousands of Long Island residents still waiting for power to be restored, the head of the Long Island Power Authority has resigned, the utility announced Tuesday night.
The announcement came hours after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo created a 10-member commission to investigate utilities' response to Superstorm Sandy, and Long Island residents filed a class-action lawsuit against the authority for its handling of the storm.
Residents there have also launched online petitions to have the state take away the utility's license to operate, protested outside its headquarters and called for an investigation.
The resignation of the Power Authority's chief operating officer, Mike Hervey, who was also serving as acting chief executive, will take effect at the end of the year. LIPA Chairman Howard E. Steinberg accepted his resignation on behalf of the board of trustees.
“Mike has provided 12 years of valuable service to LIPA, including taking on the responsibility to perform the functions of CEO of the organization over the past two years,” Steinberg said in a statement. “Mike has played a leadership role in connection with the planned structural changes at LIPA going forward which will result in better service and accountability to LIPA’s customers in the years ahead.”
Since Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, tens of thousands of Long Island residents have had no electricity, significantly longer than most people in the region. More than 8 million people across the Northeast had power knocked out from the storm or the following nor’easter, but the Long Island Power Authority has been slower than other utilities to restore power.
Utility officials did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
The class-action lawsuit accuses the Power Authority of failing to prepare for Sandy or communicate effectively with customers in the aftermath.
“I think this will probably be one of the biggest classes every certified in this country,” attorney Kenneth Mollins told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “We brought this suit to command accountability.”
Mollins filed the suit in Nassau County court against the Power Authority and National Grid, a multinational company that provides power for several Northeastern states and Britain. The Power Authority is contracted by National Grid to handle utilities on Long Island.
Mollins and one other man are the only plaintiffs so far, but Mollins said he thinks as many as 1 million people could be included in the suit eventually. He estimates the damages would be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Sandy’s wind, floods and snow downed trees, snapped power lines and flooded electrical grid infrastructure in several states.
By the authority's own estimates, 36,000 Long Islanders are going into a third week without power. Before power can be restored, the utility said, customers must repair or make sure their electrical hookups and equipment are operational.
The utility requires homeowners with damaged equipment to replace it themselves and schedule for a Power Authority employee to inspect the changes.
The lawsuit was filed hours after Cuomo announced his investigative commission. Its purpose: to determine how to modernize oversight, regulation and management of the state’s power delivery services.
The commission includes a former state attorney general, public service commission chairman, New York Power Authority chairman and Nassau County Dist. Atty. Kathleen Rice.
The governor said Sandy exposed the extreme vulnerability of the state’s utility infrastructure. The state had to turn to rationing gasoline after only three days of no fuel deliveries.
In New Jersey, about 40,000 people had no power Tuesday morning, from a high of 2.6 million when Sandy swept over the region. Most of them are in a similar situation to Long Island residents and require individual inspections before companies can turn the lights back on.