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Gianaris wants Con Ed money to go to hospital

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Astoria community leaders said they would prefer that money from a settlement on the 2006 western Queens blackout reached two years ago between Con Edison and an advocacy group go toward health care initiatives in the neighborhood and not greening projects.

Power for the People was formed in 2006 following the 10-day blackout that left 174,000 residents of Astoria, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside without power and cost businesses in the communities millions of dollars. The group reached a settlement with Con Ed in 2008 under which the utility agreed to pay $7.9 million for planting trees and other green initiatives.

But Astoria leaders said they believe money from the settlement would be better spent on helping Astoria’s Mt. Sinai Hospital to expand, especially in the aftermath of the closing of St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica more than a year ago.

“This community has a lot of needs, health care chief among them,” state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “This bad deal keeps getting worse. The meager amount that Con Ed has funneled to this group can only be used for certain things that do not meet the needs of the community. We’re seeing the problem of sitting at the table and shaking hands with Con Ed.”

Gianaris said the community is not opposed to greening initiatives, but improved health care in the community is urgent.

Mt. Sinai has been seeking funds for a $200 million, nine-story addition to expand its capacity in western Queens. The expansion would bring the total number of beds to 265 from 192 as well as adding 10,000 square feet of emergency room space.

The hospital is looking for funding to close a $75 million gap that would allow for the completion of the project.

Con Ed could not be reached for comment.

Power for the People held two listening sessions in Astoria and Sunnyside in late March to get input from residents on what projects they should include in a request for proposals scheduled to be issued in May and awarded in September.

“It’s a done deal,” said Ann Eagan, a spokeswoman for Power for the People. “The whole decision was made two years ago. Where were these people? None of them spoke up. It’s been resolved, signed, sealed and delivered. They could have gotten in touch with us. We couldn’t change it if we wanted to. It’s like any other legal agreement.”

The grant money would be administered by nonprofit Northstar Fund. One of the limitations of the funds is that half of it must be used toward urban forestry programs.

But Mike Camarinos, a law student who recently founded Astorians for Responsible Government in reaction to the settlement, slammed the deal between the utility and Power for the People.

“If you look at the way this settlement was conducted, it was a back room handshake,” he said. “The deal was not supported by anyone in the community. This group met with Con Ed and settled on behalf of the community, the vast majority of whom did not want to settle for such an inadequate fee.”

Elected officials, including then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria), Gianaris and Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), criticized the settlement after it was reached in 2008 on the grounds that it did not repay ratepayers for suffering through the outage.

Under the settlement, the utility gave $100 to each resident affected by the blackout, $200 to small businesses and $350 to larger businesses. Con Ed had previously paid more than $12 million in compensation.

The utility also swallowed an estimated $46 million in repair costs stemming from the blackout.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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