Biz owners pan payout for blackout

By Nathan Duke

The state's Public Service Commission approved a settlement last week between Con Edison and victims of the 10-day western Queens blackout of 2006, but business owners and elected officials said the reimbursements were a pittance compared to losses caused by the outage.

Under the $17 million settlement, residents and businesses will receive credits on their bills and payments for spoiled food. The utility will give $100 to each resident affected by the outage, while small businesses will receive $200 and large businesses will get $350. The utility had previously paid more than $12 million in compensation to residents and business owners shortly after the outage.

Con Ed will also pay another $46 million in repair costs stemming from the outage rather than charge ratepayers.

But western Queens elected officials said the settlement does not even come close to paying back residents who suffered through as many as 10 days without electricity and borough businesses that lost thousands of dollars in products, equipment and revenue.

"The PSC looks the other way while Con Ed continues to plague this city," state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. "Until Con Edison is forced to make dramatic reforms, we can expect more of the same: unreliable service and ever-increasing rates. What a shame."

An estimated 174,000 residents were left without power during the outage and several borough businesses were permanently shuttered.

In a statement, the utility said that its "performance during the event did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves nor the expectations of our customers."

Astoria merchants said Con Ed's reimbursements did not help them get back on their feet after the blackout and that they feared future outages could be devastating.

"We got $3,000 back from Con Edison, so what am I going to get with an extra hundred dollars or so?" asked Alex Poulos, owner of SoHo Sandwich Bar and Blendz on 31st Street. "I'm crossing my fingers that there aren't any more major disasters."

Poulos said he lost an estimated $15,000 during the outage.

Harry Panagiotopoulos, owner of Igloo Cafe on 31st Street, said he had to fix all of his refrigerators and transformers following the blackout, as well as replace thousands of dollars of ice cream. He said the utility paid him $7,000 after he lost power for one week.

"It's nothing compared to what we lost," he said. "I'm really sick of this with Con Ed. Now, they're increasing our bills 22 percent. They screwed us before and now they're screwing us again."

The utility predicted that customers' bills could rise as high as 22 percent this summer in response to increases in natural gas and oil prices.

The PSC-approved settlement also requires the utility to conduct a study to investigate the economic and health impact of the 2006 outage as well as plant trees and initiate neighborhood greening projects in communities affected by the blackout.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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