20 Aug 2014
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'Mobile Village' in East Hampton Set Up for LIPA Workers

Sleeper units, fueling station, mess hall tents provide accommodations for contractors brought in from around the country to help restore power after Sandy.

Since crews were called in Wednesday from around the country to help the Long Island Power Authority restore service to the nearly 90 percent of its customers affected by the hurricane, work began on arranging accommodations for them.

An unused runway on the west side of the East Hampton Airport in Wainscott was transformed to a mobile village of sorts that can provide sleeping, bathing, and eating accommodations for up to 1,000 of the more than 2,000 workers that arrived on Long Island from as far west as California.

Though sleeping in Wainscott, many will actually be working on points further west in Suffolk County, in areas even more devastated in the storm. On Friday afternoon, there are 1,753 customers with power outages in the Town of East Hampton, well less than 1 percent of the 527,702 total outages on Long Island.

Workers, with whom LIPA have contracted for services in case of such major electrical and gas incidents, started arriving on Thursday evening. Vinny Esposito, the staging area manager, said they will work 16 hour days and return to the staging area to sleep, eat, and clean-up.

Converted trailers, called mobile sleeping units, were trucked in, along with bathrooms and showers. A tent was erected mess hall with onsite catering. There's even a nurse on site round the clock.

Staging areas such as these popped up in four other locations on Long Island: at Nassau Coliseum, Bethpage State Park, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, and Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley.

"There are just no lodgings available," Esposito said, adding that many of the people displaced along the south shore have gone to hotels.

"Although you hate to see the travel time, there's just no place to bed them down. You can't have them sleeping in their cabs because they're working 16-hour days. If you don't get enough rest, it's dangerous work to help people that aren't well rested," he said. With travel time, they'll end up getting about 6 hours of sleep, he said.

LIPA has set up twice before at the municipal airport in Wainscott in anticipation of Hurricanes Earle in 2010 and Irene in 2011, through a cooperative agreement with the Town of East Hampton.

"It has never been this extensive," said Anne Ramer, an assistant site manager, who gave East Hampton Patch a tour on Thursday evening, as the first contractors started arriving with their utility and box trucks with Michigan tags. They were expecting 500 workers to arrive Thursday evening.

Sleeper units, which stack three bunk-beds six deep on both sides of the trailers, had bedding and lights and heat on, thanks to generators. More units were expected to arrive on Friday. Dinner was about to be served, complete with chocolate cake. The fuel truck was ready to refuel the workers' vehicles before they head out in the morning.

The site has 50 staging area personnel, including flaggers to help park the vehicles in an organized fashion. Esposito and his operations team set up with computers in the East Hampton Fire Department's building that houses equipment to fight airport-related fires.

The grounds are fully lit with mobile spot lights that have to face a certain way so to not interfere with airport traffic landing nearby, Ramar said, adding LIPA officials met with town officials to make sure everything was okay. There's also security at the entrance.

"The obvious major benefit of having LIPA there is proximity," said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who added he has received calls from angry residents who don't have power yet, five days after Sandy hit the South Fork. "Both Johnson [Nordlinger, his assistant] and I will spend a good couple of hours over there delivering locations and specific addresses that still need attention. There is a level of customer of service from that point of view that comes with them being in our town."

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