By Rebecca Henely
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) demanded that Con Edison bury its overhead electrical wires underground in Middle Village, but Con Ed said the process is prohibitively expensive.
The request was partly in response to the tornados and macroburst storm that hit Middle Village and other neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn Sept. 16. The storm felled electrical poles as well as trees, some of which knocked down wires as they collapsed, leaving many Middle Village residents without power.
Overall, the storm caused $17.2 million in damages in Queens and $27 million in total damages to the city.ï»¿ Crowley and Weiner maintained ï»¿the power outages after the storm could have been prevented with underground wires.
“It’s time for Con Edison to upgrade our power system and bring us into the 21st century,” Crowley said.
Residents also said the overhead power lines have subjected the community to more frequent power outages. Heidi Rimanich, a Middle Village resident in her 60s, said the neighborhood has had power lines hanging overhead throughout the years, which she said poses a danger to children near the Juniper Valley Park area.
“They might touch the wires, and there is no way to tell if the wire is live or not,” Rimanich said.
But Bob McGee, a spokesman for Con Ed, said the project would be prohibitive for both the utility — with each mile of wires put underground costing $6 billion to install — and to residents and business owners. Residents would have to pay $7,500 to have an electrician convert their home from a place that gets its electricity from an overhead system to an underground system, and businesses would have to pay $20,000.
“There would be very high installation costs associat[ed with] converting to an underground system,” McGee said.
McGee also said while there would be fewer outages, the power breakdowns in an underground system take 60 percent longer to repair.
Crowley and Weiner, along with state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), sent a letter Oct. 6 to Con Ed Chief Executive Officer Kevin Burke requesting that the wires be installed underground. Crowley pointed out that while the company said the process would be expensive, Con Ed had not given them a price.
Weiner contended Con Ed was trying to do things on the cheap, and said the cost of cleanup and lawsuits after a disaster like the tornado, as well as the upkeep of the wires, could potentially be larger than the investments Con Ed would have to put out to install an underground system.ï»¿ï»¿
“We don’t want them to do the easy thing, we want them to do the right thing,” he said.
Crowley said it was also unfair that residents in Middle Village pay the same amount to Con Edison as Manhattan residents, who have underground wires. She also said the more frequent power outages in the neighborhood are not just an inconvenience, but a potential risk to seniors, many of whom live in Middle Village.
“We all should have the same quality of service,” she said.
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564.