Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Council approves bill on Con Ed annual inspections

By Hemmy So

The City Council unanimously approved a bill on Sept. 28 that will require Con Edison and other electric companies to establish guidelines and procedures for the annual inspection and testing of their electrical-related infrastructure. Introduced on Feb. 26 by Councilmembers Margarita Lopez and John Liu, Council bill Intro. 205A came about in response to the death of Jodie Lane in January. Lane was electrocuted after falling onto a charged electric service box on E. 11th St. just west of First Ave.

Twenty-eight City Council members and the public advocate sponsored the bill and the mayor is expected to sign it into law.

“Prior to passing the bill, there had to be heavy advocacy on my side to make this happen,” said Lopez. “I worked very hard to make this happen. I was not going to take a ‘no’ for an answer.”

“Electrical infrastructure” includes transformers, cables, wires, metal plates, connection boxes and manhole covers.

Two months ago, a sizzling-hot manhole cover caused severe burns on Elizabeth Wallenberg after she fell on it from her skateboard on Second Ave. at E. 13th St. Following the incident, Con Ed replaced the covers of all its steam manholes with resin-coated lids.

Under the bill, an electric company is also responsible for any needed repairs made apparent by the inspections. After the inspection, testing and repair process, electric companies must file a written report with the City Council, city Department of Transportation and the New York State Public Service Commission by Jan. 15 of each year.

“Checking equipment for stray voltage has always been part of the procedure of our crews whenever they enter an underground structure or whenever they do work on a structure,” Joe Petta, a Con Edison spokesperson, said. With respect to a formal program, Petta said Con Edison had already initiated an annual testing program in January of this year. From January to March, Con Edison tested 291,000 structures owned by the company and an additional 240,000 municipal lampposts.

While Con Edison believes its safety measures meet the goals of this legislation, Petta said, “irrespective of legislation, Con Edison had committed to annual testing.”

In addition to forcing Con Edison and other electric companies to implement such guidelines, the bill also provides for random testing of electrical-related infrastructure. D.O.T. will conduct at least 250 random tests a year and report its results to the P.S.C. and responsible electric company.

“[The bill] will hold Con Ed accountable — the least you can ask of them,” said David McWater, chairperson of Community Board 3, which covers the area where Lane was killed and Wallenberg was severely injured. McWater hopes that by having annual inspections and random testing, injuries will be reduced.

The issue has enjoyed plenty of community support. Last February, Lopez led a 50-person march to Con Edison’s headquarters at Irving Pl. to rally for safer measures. Lane’s family has also lent its support to the new bill.

“[Con Edison] should have done something before Jodie Lane was killed. Because they didn’t do anything, well, I decided it was time for this regulation to be put in place,” Lopez said.

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