Two days after Tropical Storm Irene touched down on Long Island and severe winds left over 80 percent of Southold without power at one point, town Highway Department Superintendent Pete Harris reported to the town board on Tuesday morning that 95 percent of Southold's roads are open at this point, though also said that communication with the Long Island Power Authority must be improved in future storms to get that number up to 100 percent faster for residents.
With trees falling on power lines and onto some roads throughout the town, Harrris said that in order to clear roadways with wires underneath, determining whether those wires are live - and getting proper approval to determine that it's safe for his employees to remove the trees - has been a sticking point.
"We have to sit down with LIPA when this starts to calm down and get better communication, between them and especially my department," Harris said. "The problem isn't reaching them. It's the lack of answers."
Harris suggested that in future emergencies, the town have a LIPA representative to serve as a point person so he doesn't have to use the same automated phone line the general public does - which he currently has been doing. However Supervisor Scott Russell said that in the end, the scarcity [of population] on the East End, which serves it so well in fair weather, comes back to bite it in wider emergencies.
"They give us a designee," Russell said, "but when the storm comes, we won't see them ... they give us people to come on a sunny day in August, but when the storm comes they're nowhere to be seen.
"As a practical reality, when they have a population center focused west, that's where the crews are."
Harris said he is planning on starting to pick up fallen debris on roadways starting next Tuesday, Sept. 6. The town announced on Monday that it would offer free pickup and drop-off at the town's transfer station in Cutchogue until further notice. But Harris said that in managing his crews it would be more prudent to wait until next week after second homeowners presumably leave over Labor Day weekend.
"A lot of second homeowners are not here now and their yards are a mess," Harris said. "They need to get out here this weekend and clean their yards, so when we get the clean-up going it can be one pass through and we'll be done. We're not doing each street three times."
In the interim, Harris added, many individuals would take their own debris to the transfer station, thus reducing the workload on his department. The lag could also provide a boon for private enterprise, a big concern for Councilman Chris Talbot. Talbot questioned why the town was removing debris in the first place at the risk of falling behind on other projects when he said there are private companies looking to pick up the slack.
Southold Solid Waste Coordinator Jim Bunchuck reported that on Monday, over 1,150 vehicles lined up to drop off debris as the town offered free drop-off. He said on an average Monday, 300 cars drive through the transfer station dropping off debris.