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Civic blasts Con Ed on wire safety

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Repeating a cry first raised two years ago, the Juniper Park Civic Association is demanding that Con Edison remove temporary street lamp wires that the civic claims pose a threat to public safety.

The utility responded that last year it changed its policy and now runs the wires on the inside of the lamps. Con Ed is continuing to reduce a backlog in outside-wired street lights.

“Our biggest concern is the safety of the public,” Con Ed spokeswoman Carol Conslato said.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic, contends he has seen “dangerous wiring practices” on street lamps in parts of Middle Village frequented by children, such as near St. Margaret’s School, PS 49 and Juniper Valley Park.

“I don’t know why Con Ed continuously has these wires out,” Holden said in a phone interview Friday. “Even the Con Ed workers I spoke to said that they are dangerous.”

The wires in question are called shunts, and they are used to connect a malfunctioning street light to an adjacent lamp as a means of temporarily providing light before a permanent repair can be performed.

Conslato said work crews always make sure the wires are well secured in a safe position before they leave a site.

“We would never leave a dangerous situation,” Conslato said. “Aesthetica­lly, it may not have looked safe, but when our crews leave the location, the wiring is secured with the highest safety standards with the public in mind.”

But Holden contends the wires are frequently “hanging within arm’s reach,” running vertically along the length of the pole. The electrical tape used to fasten the wires eventually wears away, he said, letting them “dangle in the winds back and forth.” Ultimately some of the insulation wears away and leaves the metal wire exposed, he said.

The civic became alarmed nearly two years ago when Holden saw a shunt snap near Juniper Valley Park because teenagers had been swinging on it. Sparks flew and power to the adjacent block was knocked out, he said.

“Con Ed and DOT made a concerted effort to work better together in terms of trying to fix these shunts,” said Tom Cocola, the spokesman for the city Department of Transportation. “We’ve done a better job citywide than we did a year and a half ago. And can we do better? Sure.”

But now Holden claims numerous sites with “exposed high voltage wires” have yet to be repaired despite the earlier media attention.

“This policy was so widespread and so dangerous that it’s amazing they didn’t put more resources into correcting it two years ago,” he said. “Why two years later am I finding more and more sites? I expected it to be gone.”

Within the past year, Con Edison has changed its wiring practices in response to community concerns by running shunts inside the lamps so they are completely inaccessible to people, Conslato said.

“We are working to eliminate the external wiring on any street lights that may have a temporary service,” Conslato said.

Conslato said 518 street lights in Queens currently have temporary wiring of some sort and are awaiting a permanent repair. The utility has hired an outside contractor and reassigned crews from its own departments to identify problem sites and repair them.

Anyone who sees wiring believed to pose imminent danger should contact Con Edison or dial CALL-DOT, the city DOT repair hotline.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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