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Superstorm Sandy's Fifth Anniversary Brings Improvements And A Smaller Storm

U.S. Army photo by Spc. J.P. Lawrence, flickr
Tree clearing after Superstorm Sandy

Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which hit New York City, the lower Hudson Valley and devastated much of Long Island. And now portions of the Northeast are addressing power outages and flooding following a storm that also hit overnight beginning October 29. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has a look at improvements made since Sandy.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was on Long Island Sunday, announcing upgrades to a wastewater treatment plant on the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. He also referred to Sandy and subsequent monster storms in the U.S. as a certain kind of evidence.

“Climate change is real, period,” Cuomo said.

“I mean, how much more proof do you want? One year after the other, every year hotter, the worst hurricanes, highest number of hurricanes,” said Cuomo. “Let’s put it this way, either there’s climate change or Mother Nature’s having a nervous breakdown. Either way, we’re going to have to deal with it.”

Democratic U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer was with Cuomo for the Long Island announcement and spoke about the importance of disaster relief aid. In January 2013, Congress approved nearly $51 billion in Sandy aid. Schumer says that enabled rebuilding and recovery in affected areas, and he held up Long Island as an example.

“For every dollar the federal government put in, they probably got $4 or $5 back in terms of jobs and revitalization and everything else,” Schumer said. “And we said to our dear friends in the Texas delegation, who led the fight against Sandy money and voted against Sandy money, we’re not going to do the same to you. We’re Americans, we’re New Yorkers. When any area’s hurt, we stand up for that area that is hurt, no matter where they are. And I want to say to my colleagues that also means Puerto Rico today as well as Texas and Florida.”

Superstorm Sandy hobbled utility companies with widespread and prolonged power outages. Paul Steidler is spokesman for the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance. He says five years later, several improvements have been made.

“There have been billions of dollars invested in the electric grid since Sandy. This has included elevating substations, putting in place more stronger and more fortified poles,” Steidler says. “It’s also included things like building flood walls around crucial equipment. So there’s a lot of important work that’s taking place even though it might not be seen.”

In addition, he says utility companies have improved communications, including better use of social media to keep customers informed. Steidler says planning also is improved.

“For example, there is more stockpiling of poles and transformers within New York,” says Steidler. “So if there is an outage, you don’t have to wait for those to be shipped in from out of state.”

However, New York AREA believes more needs to be done to fortify and protect the electric grid.

“Much of the grid is simply old. More than 75 percent of it is more than 40 years old at this point. So it’s important that, for normal wear and tear, a lot of the grid be replaced. And there’s also a trend towards something called the smart grid whereby people can remotely control the electricity in their home and, if they have solar power, for example, sell it back to utilities. So that requires a more substantial, a more sophisticated grid, and investments need to be made in that respect, particularly on the IT side," Steidler says. "There’s also a growing number of cyber attacks and cyber threats, and that’s another concern for the grid.”

Meanwhile, power outages persist in the Hudson Valley. As of late Monday morning, Central Hudson had nearly 9,000 outages, most in Dutchess and Ulster Counties. NYSEG was dealing with some 31,000 outages; about 12,000 of those were in Putnam and more than 9,000 in Westchester. Orange & Rockland Utilities was addressing some 4,000 outages, many in Sullivan County. And Con Edison reported about 2,500 out in Westchester. The weather also impacted Metro-North Railroad, causing problems on the New Haven line. 

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