As New Yorkers painfully recall, overhead power lines did not fare well during Superstorm Sandy. Poles came crashing down and wires were scattered across sidewalks and streets.
The City Council has decided to study the possibility of burying power lines, although it lacks the power to mandate such a massive project. While the Council is to be commended for turning its attention to long-term planning rather than focusing only on the here and now, this may not be the best use of its time, talent and resources.
The issue of burying power lines came up repeatedly in the aftermath of Sandy. ConEd, which is responsible for the 35,000 miles of overhead wires in the city and in Westchester, estimated that the project would cost about $60 billion.
And, let’s remember, it would still be no guarantee against superstorms: underground power lines in Manhattan were flooded during Sandy.
Historians will note that after the infamous Blizzard of ’88 (that would be 1888) brought down power lines in Manhattan, the city looked to the future and acted accordingly. That’s when Manhattan’s power lines were buried underground.
Such an undertaking over a much-wider expanse of geography would be far more expensive now. It’s never wrong to adapt to new circumstances or to learn from catastrophes like Sandy. But the Council needs to take fiscal reality into account as well. That’s a mark of true leadership.