Volume 73, Number 46 | March 17 -23, 2004

Villager photo by Bob Arihood

Mark Bulvanoski, left, and Bob Chu, carried Bulvanoski’s dogs, Caja and Bou, from the scene after the dogs were shocked on the sidewalk on First Ave. on Feb. 9. Chu owns a liquor store at the location.

Con Ed says inspections wouldn’thave shown signs of stray voltage

By Lincoln Anderson

A week after two dogs were shocked on the sidewalk on First Ave. between St. Mark’s Pl. and Ninth St., there was still disbelief that it could have happened just a few blocks from where, on Jan. 16, East Villager Jodie Lane was electrocuted on a Con Ed service box cover. After Lane’s death, the utility inspected all 260,000 of its service boxes and manholes, found several score of them to have stray voltage and claimed it had corrected the problem.

In the latest incident, according to Joe Petta, a Con Ed spokesperson, the problem was not in the service box, located in the street near the gutter, or at the building, where the wires from the junction box led, but in between. The problem was in a conduit under the sidewalk, and the fact that the sidewalk was “saturated,” in Petta’s words, from a hard drizzle caused the incident.

“They checked the building side and the service box side, and said there was no problem at either end,” said Petta. “It was a frayed wire in the conduit. It came in contact with the conduit. Because the sidewalk was so wet, it was conducting current to the pavement itself.”

The wire, which dated from the 1930s, may have become frayed or touched the conduit because of subway or traffic vibrations over time, he said.

Although the union representing Con Ed’s maintenance workers was quick to point out that during the recent inspections of the utility’s manholes and service boxes, only exterior checks for stray voltage were done, as opposed to visual inspections inside the structures, Petta said in this case it wouldn’t have mattered, since the problem was under the sidewalk.

“Visually inspecting the wiring inside the service box would not have detected anything out of the ordinary,” the spokesperson said.

However, Councilmember Margarita Lopez, who has introduced a bill to force Con Ed to do stringent yearly inspections of its street facilities, called the latest dog-shock incident “unbelievable.”

“How could these people say to all of us that they reviewed and checked every single one of these manholes and that everything is copacetic — and that a few days after they say that, this happens? I hold the Public Service Commission responsible for this,” she said.

Told the problem this time was under the sidewalk and that Con Ed’s spokesperson said inspectors never would have found it, Lopez fumed, “That’s baloney. They always have an explanation for everything.”

Lopez also blasted Con Ed over the report it submitted to the P.S.C. last Friday in which the blame for Lane’s death is placed on a worker, albeit one whom Con Ed said was well trained.

“How could they have the chutzpah to say the responsibility lies on the worker himself?” she said. “The final work always has to be checked by a supervisor.”

The councilmember wondered if Con Ed might be shifting manpower to expanding its E. 14th St. power plant, draining maintenance crews from the streets. But Petta said there was “absolutely no connection” between stray voltage conditions and the plant’s expansion.

Of the latest incident, Gunnar Hellekson, co-founder of the Jodie Lane Project, a coalition working to insure Con Ed’s street facilities are safe, said, “I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised. They explain all these accidents as aberrations — but we feel it’s a pattern of neglect and decreased maintenance.”


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