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Put lines underground: Beep

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Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) want Con Edison to bury electrical and other power lines after Tropical Storm Irene felled many trees on its path through Queens at the end of August, taking down overhead wires and cutting power to many.

“We’ve got a half dozen problems relating to a tree coming down,” said Dan Andrews, spokesman for Marshall. “It’s not just a tree.”

The city managed to avoid the devastation that hit parts of New Jersey in upstate New York, but the city Parks Department said many trees were taken out during the storm. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said in a statement the department received 9,000 calls during the storm about tree conditions and that the impact to the city’s trees could be as much or greater than the tornadoes and macroburst that struck Queens and Brooklyn last year.

The tornadoes felled 4,000 trees across the city and caused President Barack Obama to declare the borough a federal disaster area.

“While Hurricane Irene may have weakened somewhat as [it] hit New York City,? it still packed a hard punch, leaving thousands of trees down or damaged on streets and in parks,” Benepe said.

Obama declared the borough a natural disaster area again last week due to Irene, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

Andrews said more than 900 trees came down in Queens during and after the storm and that some of those trees felled electrical wires in the process. Andrews said while Queens has a large number of trees, it also has 7,000 more miles of overhead wires than any other borough.

Allan Drury, spokesman for Con Edison, said the cost would be a burden on customers. Not only would installing the underground wires cost $6 million a mile that would be reflected in electrical rates, but customers would also have to pay electricians to convert their homes or businesses to be ready for the underground system.

“The issue is still cost,” he said.

Andrews responded that given the recent weather disasters, burying wires might be more cost-effective in the long run.

Crowley, along with state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, wrote a letter after the tornadoes last year asking Con Edison to bury the lines. Her office said she is proposing legislation to require Con Ed to do so in Middle Village.

While downed trees was the biggest problem, flooding was also an issue in parts of the city after Irene. In addition, the city Parks Department said the storm surge covered the Rockaway beaches, shifting sand into the neighborhoods. Sections of the Rockaways have also suffered erosion and boardwalk damage, the department said.

Con Edison said about 187,800 customers in the city and Westchester County lost power during the storm, and virtually all customers had their power restored by Tuesday.

The loss of power caused other problems. The New York Blood Center said it was short 2,000 pints of blood and asked people to donate.

“We’re still struggling, especially on the negative blood groups,” said Christina Dingfelder, spokeswoman for the center.

The city Economic Development Corp. said last week it was still trying to assess the economic impact of the storm.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 7:09 pm, September 14, 2011
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