At a recent trustee meeting, Port Washington North Mayor Robert Weitzner pledged to hold a public meeting where village residents could voice frustrations, complaints and suggestions in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Tuesday's Emergency Preparedness Forum at Port Washington Public Library fulfilled that pledge.
More than 50 attended, with another 10 seated at the dais including the mayor and trustees, PWMOEM Commissioner Peter Forman, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and village commissioners of public works, emergency management and buildings department.
Schimel praised the village for being the first on the peninsula to initiate such a public forum to examine successes and failures in coping with Sandy and to plan for meeting future emergencies. She urged everyone to keep issues with LIPA in front of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “LIPA is a state agency and requires a solution at the state level,” Schimel said. She also stressed that local governments need to take steps on their own to ensure effective communication and public safety during emergency situations.
After a statement and presentation by the mayor recapping the storm experience and resulting damage and statements from other public officials the meeting was opened for public comment.
Although many expressed frustrations with LIPA, there were also thanks offered for a job well done to the mayor and trustees and Peter Forman, as well as Steve Kaplan, commissioner of emergency management, and Ron Novinsky, commissioner of Public Works.
The focus quickly shifted to the future, with many supporting the review of the village code as it pertains to generators and trees. Weitzner suggested that code requirements for generators and tree removal both need to be updated. Currently, home owners are prohibited from putting generators in side yards, and there are stringent noise limitations. He pointed out that generators are meant to be used during emergencies when conditions are less than ideal, so placement and noise levels need to be amended.
Yet amending the code will take time.
"We can’t compromise safety,” Weitzner said. “Residents who wish to purchase generators immediately will need to apply for a permit and comply with current code. Part of planning for the future will be exploring the feasibility of arranging a bulk purchase and installation on behalf of homeowners.”
The village is also looking at dealing with trees that may pose a danger to individuals and homes as well as interfere with power delivery. Historically the village has resisted removing any trees but in light of the experience with Sandy the trustees will re-visit the procedure for assessing the dangers posed by trees both on public and private property. To encourage the pruning or replacement of certain trees, the village is considering a suggestion to negotiate a group contract on behalf of homeowners to help defray expenses.
Handouts included emergency phone numbers and e-mail contacts. Residents are going to be informed about the Port Washington Fire Department’s program for the elderly and infirm who require special assistance during emergencies. The program puts pre-registered individuals as a priority for assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation or extended periods without electricity.
Speaking about the forum, Weitzner said, "People came away with the feeling that we fared pretty well and things will be better in the future. We have learned lessons. This is about us. We can’t count on them [LIPA]. We need to do what we can do for ourselves as a community. Tonight is a step forward.”
LIPA was invited to send representatives to the meeting, Weitnzer noted. However, officials at LIPA declined.