Town Hall Notes: Debris cleanup planned, power outages abound

Southold Town will begin cleaning up debris from Hurricane Irene on Tuesday, Sept. 6, giving homeowners time to bring their brush to the curb before the one-time collection.

“It’s going to be one and done,” town Highway Superintendent Pete Harris said during Tuesday’s Town Board work session. “I’m not going to do it two, three times. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to go out today, but people aren’t ready yet.”

The town waste transfer station in Cutchogue is accepting storm debris at no charge. Town solid waste coordinator James Bunchuck told the Town Board that 1,150 people carted in brush on Monday alone. That’s equivalent to 1.5 truckloads per minute. Another 50 people were waiting in line when the center closed at 5 p.m.

Mr. Bunchuck said his crews will start work early for the next several mornings to get a handle on the overwhelming amount of debris coming in.

Mr. Harris and Town Board members voiced disappointment over what they view as a lack of coordination between LIPA and the town in the storm’s aftermath.

“We’ve got to sit down with LIPA when this starts to calm down,” Mr. Harris said. “They’ve got to have a little better communication with my department.”

He said his department was stymied in its effort to clear a large oak tree on Stillwater Avenue in Cutchogue that was entangled in electric wires because LIPA had not let his department know that they’d cut power to the wires.

Mr. Harris added that he hopes residents will use caution when near large trees in the upcoming weeks. On Monday night five trees came down on town roads when there was no wind blowing.

“There’s a tremendous amount of damage that you don’t even notice,” he said. “Trees have stress fractures in them. The public has to be aware if they see something that’s a danger, they have to contact us. If there’s a little 15 to 20 mile per hour breeze going, stuff’s going to come down.”

Mr. Harris said he doesn’t plan to replace road-end trash barrels that were removed in advance of the storm, primarily because he believes residents emptying their refrigerators would fill them with spoiled food.

Mr. Harris added that with 80 percent of Southold’s population — roughly 11,600 people — without power for at least some portion of the storm, Southold has a greater percentage of residents without power than anywhere else in Suffolk County.

Supervisor Scott Russell said his office has been inundated with phone calls from residents who are upset that they remain without power. He urged them to call LIPA instead.

“When you have a population center that’s focused west, that’s where the crews are,” he said. “During the storm, our job was to keep people safe. Afterward, the complaints were all about LIPA. We’re doing everything we can.”

Mr. Russell added that the town received scant assistance from the American Red Cross in operating the five emergency shelters opened during the storm. The organization sent personnel to more populated area while sending cots to Southold, the supervisor said.

“The Red Cross didn’t surprise us at all,” he said. “Our past history with the Red Cross is they go to areas where the population is greater. They don’t come here.”

Councilman Al Krupski agreed, saying, “Going forward, we shouldn’t consider them a resource.”

In assessing the storm the supervisor said, “A lot of things went awfully right. The shelters were up and running. There was great cooperation. We had a game plan in place. We got lucky as town. I know its inconvenient we don’t have electric, but we’re not talking about body bags.”

Mr. Russell said he’d like the town to look into adding a 311 service line that people can call to report non-emergency information during a storm. That, he said, would allow 911 operators to focus on true emergencies.

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