Con Edison Briefs the Community on Its Efforts Regarding ‘Stray Voltage’

Posted on: March 12th, 2014 at 9:41 am by

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Con Edison warning about stray voltage on Orchard St.

“Beastie Boys Square” wasn’t the only hot-button issue at last night’s CB3 transportation subcommittee meeting. Suits from Con Edison presented an informational session for their initiative to battle the weather-related issue of stray voltage. Their appearance before Community Board 3 was no doubt sparked (at least partially) by the scaffold-spurred dog electrocution that transpired on Clinton Street last month, and the seemingly high incidence of canine shocks during this winter.

A simple Power Point deck precipitated a rather heated exchange about what the monopolistic utility company is doing to help mitigate the problems of what they call “contact voltage” from “energized objects” on our streets. Their demonstration included nods to new state-of-art technology being employed to better detect such instances, which then helps with prevention and mitigation practices.

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The presentation also introduced the rollout of new signage for affected areas, even though we’ve already seen the announcements scattered about the neighborhood.

Both panel and public then weighed in during the subsequent Q&A.

Critics of their plans, most of whom are dog owners, did not take kindly to the explanation of shock unpredictability. How it’s pretty much impossible to single out all areas where a salt-moisture mixture would actively conduct electricity. Detractors were further hot and bothered by the way Con Edison put it on the population to basically police its infrastructure.

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Garrett Ross of Village Dogworks asked questions about the dangers for dog owners who are constantly worried about being shocked, and also questioned why the agency has taken so long to even create such signs. After all, this problem is not new. Jodie Lane was shocked to death on East 11th Street back in 2004.

And seven years before her, Phil Vanaria, allegedly the first documented survivor of stray voltage electrocution. He was in attendance to speak on behalf of those humans and animals lost to the alleged negligence of Con Edison. Vanaria’s aggressive and impassioned speech recounted his experience in 1997 at a West Village payphone, and essentially became a filibuster of sorts for the session.

Other East Village residents chimed in with their own stray voltage experiences, all of which transpired within the last month or so.

In the end, though, the most useful suggestions focused on the signage itself. Several speakers believed that these “hunky dory” TL:DR signs are a good start, but fail to address the problem. For one thing, the little flyers are affixed too low to the ground and with illegible print. Not to mention, the message is not stern enough. Chair David Crane posited alternative wording to the effect of, “Warning: possible electrical shock hazard.” Other suggestions included making the signage at eye level, introducing red lights, or getting pet owner warnings in the advanced weather advisories before storms.

Since the presentation was strictly informational, no vote was taken. Con Edison will take the feedback and allegedly make some improvements. When that will happen is anyone’s guess.

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