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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.

Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing

Nelson Rockefeller’s nomination for Governor in 1958 was partly an upstate revolt against the continued domination of party affairs by the Nassau Republican organization. Rockefeller was a man who always had bigger fish to fry, and throughout his almost 15 years as governor, he often went out of his way not to step on the toes of the touchy Nassau GOP. That’s why Nassau is the only large New York county without a state office building. Respect the turf.

Just before taking office, Rockefeller announced that State Senator William Hults would be Commissioner of Motor Vehicles, but not until the end of the 1959 legislative session, so that Glen Cove, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay and a sliver of Hempstead wouldn’t lose their Senate representation until 1960.

Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’

The Nassau County district attorney’s (DA) office makes a cameo appearance in Empty Mansions, an incredible book about Huguette Clark (1906-2011), the Manhattan-raised heiress whose generosity and eccentricities were legendary.

Now that Ryan Murphy, a creator of television’s “Glee,” has optioned Empty Mansions’ film rights, I imagine a scrum of top actresses are vying to play Clark.

Long Islanders Can Handle The Facts

All parts of a power transmission and distribution system can be put underground. The larger transmission lines that usually run along main roads and railroad tracks, the “tap lines” that branch off into neighborhoods, the substations and transformers, all of it. Underground systems are not perfectly protected, but they are better protected from wind, ice and trees.

The cost of underground wires in new developments is only a little more than putting in overhead wires. Replacement of existing overheads with buried wires is something else. It costs more, but how much more and if it’s worth the cost are questions that need serious study from some objective source, once and for all.

Over the past ten years, at least seven state and Canadian provinces, plus an electrical industry trade group, have sponsored big, fat studies weighing potential costs against potential benefits of widespread undergrounding of electrical wires.

Cost estimates have been all over the place. Population density and topography are major variables. There are different strategies to make repairs easier and dissipate heat buildup. Some studies don’t account for the probability of power, gas, telephone and cable operators sharing costs, or for trenching overhead wires as they fall or their worn poles must be replaced. We just don’t know. For decades LILCO and then LIPA seem to have cooked cost estimates of burying sagging, unsightly, dangerous and unreliable wires. Since the 1960s, LILCO and LIPA official cost estimates have gone from $900 million to $33.3 billion.

The fact is that by the 1960s, much of the cost argument against undergrounding was severely weakened by sharply rising property values and a new housing market that no longer required rock-bottom prices in prestigious Long Island. As the Johnson Administration was promoting popular highway beautification programs, there was also a serious and partly successful movement across Suburban America to underground ugly wires (California, with Governor Reagan’s support, required universal undergrounding in 1967). Starting with Huntington in 1964, several towns in still-suburbanizing Suffolk County required most new wiring to be buried.

From the start, a few developers of more exclusive housing colonies were quite willing to pay more for burying wires, and then to use it as a selling point. For most of Nassau County, something always happened to thwart serious efforts to bury vulnerable portions of the overhead power grid.

In 1950, following a series of incidents that included two damaging hurricanes, an airplane strike of high tension wires that blacked out all of Suffolk and much of Nassau, and a horrible double electrocution of workers in a Manhasset backyard, it looked like mass undergrounding was moving forward. Then the Korean War made materials scarce.

In 1971, after Hurricane Daria (250,000 Long Island homes blacked out), the Public Service Commission, which regulated investor-owned utilities like LILCO, proposed mandatory undergrounding of local wires across Long Island. Town and city supervisors lined up to testify against the proposal in the midst of one of the larger school tax revolts, terrified that they’d be blamed for raising rates. The PSC did require undergrounding in new, larger housing developments, as the Federal Housing Adminstration already had six years before. Unfortunately, Nassau County was almost entirely built years before. Many newer complexes kept their lights during Sandy. Underground wires.

After Hurricane Belle in 1976 (532,000 outages) and an infamous ice storm in 1978 (340,000 outages), Governor Carey looked like he’d be the hero to push through a comprehensive undergrounding law. The press speculated that it would be a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, but after a few weeks of tough talk and more property tax problems, he moved on to other things.

In 1954, LILCO warned that burying its wires would quadruple the average $10 a month bill over 45 years. In 1978, with the average bill at $37, the company warned that burying its wires would double bills. Today, the average LIPA bill is about $157.

Something always happened, and it usually involved hysterical claims about rates by the utility, and the fear that motivates most elected officials. Fear of being blamed for anything. Fear of utility services with large budgets for public, government and political relations.

We need grown-ups now. We need answers and options.