Tornadoes and a macroburst tore through parts of Queens on Sept. 16, leaving structural and arboreal damage on a massive scale. Streets and sidewalks in some areas, such as Middle Village, were also littered with tattered, downed power lines, highlighting what some elected officials and residents on Monday called a vulnerability with a clear, long-overdue remedy: putting overhead wires underground.
“It’s time for Con Ed to move us into the 21st century,” said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), just outside Juniper Valley Park. “Residents were left without electricity for days, while areas with power lines underground did not have to live with that situation.”
Crowley added that the overhead wires in Middle Village are unsightly, and when compromised by any storm, can be extremely dangerous.
“Downed power lines hampered the cleanup,” Crowley reported.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) also signed a letter that Crowley sent to Con Ed President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Burke back in October asking for the conversion.
“This is a common-sense proposal,” Weiner said on Monday, before noting how overhead lines have been a part of the area’s landscape for more than 100 years. “The time has long passed that we become a modern community in this modern city. The simple fact is Con Ed is trying to do things on the cheap.”
But a spokesman for the utility told the Chronicle that the conversion from overhead to underground is prohibitively expensive: $6 million per mile of line and it would require customers to pay electricians anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000 to complete the switch.
“Outages would be fewer but take 60 percent longer to repair, and there’s a higher maintenance cost,” said Con Ed spokesman Alfonso Quiroz regarding the underground system.
Quiroz went on to say one of the positives of overhead lines is that repairs are made quickly, because engineers can see and access the lines more immediately.
Community Board 5 member John Schell said that area residents are not only concerned about Con Ed power lines.
“When we have a storm, it also interrupts the service of the telephone and cable television,” he noted.
Additionally, Crowley said in the letter that the removal of the overhead grid would benefit commercial districts.
“The upgrade to safe, reliable and sightly power will be a dramatic boost for local small businesses,” she wrote.
Weiner characterized Con Ed as being “comfortable with the status quo.”
“This is not about convenience, it’s also about quality of life,” he said.