Con Edison should inspect wires once a year: Gianaris

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Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria)...

By Tom Nicholson

Prompted by the electrocution of a woman that was caused by exposed electricity cables beneath a Manhattan sidewalk last month, Queens officials are calling for legislative and investigative action into the matter.

Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) has called for city council hearings to investigate Con Edison and its service of exposed power cables, and state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D- Astoria) said he will introduce legislation that would make Con Edison inspect underground cables annually.

Vallone said the incident was similar to one that occurred in Astoria last year in which a spark from a Con Edison transmission wire set a parked vehicle on fire. The vehicle exploded, causing a nearby building at the corner of 23rd Avenue and 31st Street to catch fire and be destroyed.

Lane, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, was walking her two dogs past a pastry shop on East 11th Street when she touched an electrified metal plate covering a Con Edison utility box and was electrocuted.

The councilman said last month’s electrocution shows a trend that belies Con Edison’s statements following the electrocution that it was an isolated incident.

“Con Edison says this tragedy is highly unusual, but in truth, corroded cables have been causing death and damage for years,” Vallone said. “I’ve called for an investigation into Con Edison’s handling of its wires and also their response time.”

Vallone said Con Edison was slow to respond to the scene of the Manhattan incident in which Jodie Lane was killed.

Gianaris said on Monday he plans to introduce legislation in the state assembly to ensure that all 250,000 Con Edison underground cable service boxes are inspected for proper wiring and safety on a yearly basis.

“It is outrageous that these electrical boxes were not inspected enough to recognize this problem before someone lost her life,” Gianaris said. “This tragedy is inexcusable and I commit to doing what is necessary to prevent it from reoccurring.”

Con Edison released a report on the incident last week that said the freak accident was caused by corrosion of the cable’s protective covering due to salt which had been spread on the sidewalk to melt ice. The report said the unprotected wire electrified a metal cover over the cable, which the victim walked on.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week he was satisfied by Con Edison’s explanation of the incident.

“I have reviewed Con Edison’s report and I commend them for their straightforward and responsible assessment of the tragic events of Jan. 16,” Bloomberg said. “Our entire administration, particularly the Department of Transportation, will continue to work with Con Edison so that they can provide electricity safely to all New Yorkers.”

But Vallone was not appeased.

“New Yorkers should not be walking in a minefield,” Vallone said. “Con Edison needs to do more to service these wires. Its response that nothing can be done is unacceptable and the City Council needs to use its oversight powers to help find solutions if it cannot do it on its own.”

Reach Reporter Tom Nicholson by e-mail at or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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