Dyker loses power at height of storm

August 31, 2011 Helen Klein
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A four-square-block area of Dyker Heights lost power earlySunday morning, courtesy of Hurricane Irene, leaving residentswithout electricity for around nine hours.

As outages go, the blackout was not unexpected, and not as long asit could have been, said Fran Vella-Marrone, the president of theDyker Height Civic Association (DHCA).

Given that the neighborhood has above-ground wiring, and has hadmore than its share of blackouts, Whenever there’s a stormwhenever there’s rain, there’s always something. I think we gotlucky because the winds weren’t as bad as they expected them to be.I thought we were going to have it worse, Vella-Marrone admitted.This wasn’t that bad.

Con Edison also made the repairs quickly, said Vella-Marrone, sothat residents who lost power didn’t lose all the perishable foodsin their refrigerator and freezer. In this particular case, theydid everything they could, she said.

Maria Scarpati, who lives in the affected area, concurred. I can’tcomplain, she said. It went out completely, but we got it backabout noon on Sunday. We were very lucky.

But, the quick response to the blackout begs the question of whythe neighborhood has relatively frequent power disturbances,including one last December which plunged much of the neighborhoodinto darkness just when local homeowners were mounting theirrenowned holiday light displays that draw people from around theborough and across the city to enjoy the spectacle.

And, then there are the brief outages, just long enough to causeclocks to unset themselves. These happen on a regular basis allaround the neighborhood, and occurred a few times during theweekend in areas outside the portion of the neighborhood thatexperienced the blackout, Vella-Marrone said. The fact that thepower constantly goes on and off, there’s something else going onthere.

Everyone knows it because you come back and your clocks areblinking, she explained.

Residents have tried to get answers from Con Edison about why thishappens, and how it can be prevented. But, as recently as a fewmonths ago, they were told during a DHCA meeting that nothing couldbe done to prevent the problem, which one representative attributedto squirrels gnawing on the wires as well as weather-relatedissues.

We did an analysis over a three-year period on what caused theoutages, Con Edison’s Paul Kurzner had told the group. Many wereanimals, not only squirrels but monk parakeets building theirnests near the transformers, eventually causing them to go on fire,he said.

Alfonso Quiroz, a Con Edison spokesperson, said that, besides badweather and animals, tree limbs can affect electric service.Outages will occur, especially with an overhead system. Weconstantly maintain [it], he stressed. We constantly trim treesand we can make repairs quickly because we can see where theproblem is.

The current storm had taken out service to 188,000 of Con Edison’scustomers, he added. By Tuesday afternoon after the hurricane, 80percent of service that had been lost had been restored, with theremainder expected to be up by the end of the day, according toQuiroz.

To Vella-Marrone, it doesn’t make sense that the utility companycan’t do something to protect the wires from chewing critters. Idon’t understand, in this day and age, why we can’t make a systemthat squirrels can’t knock out.

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