On the heels of Hurricane Sandy and just days before a nor'easter walloped Long Island too, one state legislator said consideration should be given to whether power lines should be buried underground.
New York State Assemb. Steve Englebright, D-Setauket, said Friday that leaders should evaluate the costs associated with that kind of change to the local infrastructure, acknowledging that it would be expensive but suggesting it would be worthwhile. Citing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent statements about storm frequency, Englebright said it's time to look at options such as these "as a matter of policy."
"I suggest that the cost will be less over time if these storms continue to have a high frequency of occurance," said Englebright, who won re-election to a 12th term in office on Tuesday.
The debate over "undergrounding," as some utility companies call it, took place in municipal Washington, D.C., following a massive storm in June this year, according to The Washington Post. That report cited a feasibility study conducted in the D.C. area in 2003 which found that 87 percent of outages related to overhead power lines could be prevented by burying primary and secondary lines at a cost of around $2.2 billion citywide.
On Long Island, undergrounding was discussed in 2005 in the Town of Smithtown when supervisor Patrick Vecchio raised the question of giving some of the town's business districts a "facelift" by burying the power lines. At that time, a LIPA spokesman told the TBR newspaper group that there were both ups and downs to the argument: the power lines are less vulnerable to the elements and it is also more aesthetically pleasing, but when something goes wrong, the process of finding and fixing the problem is more time-consuming and labor-heavy. At that time it was estimated that it would cost between $1.7 and $5.4 million per mile for distribution circuits, which run through residential neighborhoods.
However, some leaders are already putting the cost of Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in the billions of dollars.
"I think those who have said [undergrounding] is too expensive really need to take another look at what the costs have been for having exposed technical systems, weather-exposed and vulnerable," Englebright said. "The consequences in terms of storm tracking and storm frequency translate into an imperative to us to bury these lines ... rather than just being sucker-punched by these storms in such high frequency."