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Gioia presses Con Ed to speed pipe repairs

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Gioia said his office found that Con Ed is only replacing its thousands of miles of steel and cast-iron gas pipes beneath the city's streets at a rate of 40 miles per year despite a 1991 federal directive to upgrade the system. He said the utility would complete the project by 2070 at its current rate."Con Ed's failure to seriously heed federal warnings and replace dangerously outdated infrastructure is a danger to its workers and to the public at large," Gioia said. "The danger posed by these pipes, which are prone to corrosion and leaks, is common knowledge."The councilman said he wanted the state's Public Service Commission to make the utility replace all of its piping within the next 10 years.But a Con Ed spokesman said it is rapidly replacing its 1,400 miles of cast-iron gas mains."Con Edison has the most aggressive cast-iron replacement program in New York state," the spokesman said. "Since the 1970s, Con Edison has removed 700 miles of higher pressure and smaller diameter cast iron pipe." On Nov. 22, Sunnyside resident Kunta Oza, 69, died from injuries she received the previous day when a cracked cast-iron pipe exploded in her basement apartment. The utility maintained that a mechanic who had tested the ground and air inside the building several days prior to the explosion had followed standard procedure.Gianaris said similar accidents could be prevented if Con Ed were to speed up the process of replacing its pipe system, which includes some pipes that are more than 100 years old. "They are asleep at the switch," he said. "We already pay the highest rates in the country for substandard service. If they put money back into repairing infrastructure rather than giving it to shareholders, the system would be in better shape."Gianaris said other utilities around the nation have replaced their cast-iron pipe systems more rapidly.The PSC said Con Ed was required to replace their cast-iron pipes at 40 miles per year. The utility was also the subject of scrutiny earlier this month in Long Island City, when the PSC held two public hearings to allow residents and elected officials to weigh in on Con Ed's proposed $1.2 billion rate-hike request. The proposal would raise customers' bills by as much as 36 percent, making it the largest rate-hike request in the company's history. A PSC spokeswoman said the agency would vote on the proposal this spring. Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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