No fee ever again to put flags on LIPA poles

PETER BOODY PHOTO: There will be no brouhaha over a fee for mounting flags on LIPA poles this year. The utility says it will not charge for the privilege.

LIPA’s chief operating officer has announced that the company won’t ask for a fee when Shelter Islanders or anyone else wants to mount American flags on LIPA utility poles to honor veterans — and Islanders do. The American Legion will be mounting 100 flags before Memorial Day next month as a patriotic display that will remain up through July 4.

Last year, LIPA touched off a firestorm when it said that a fee had to be charged for flags that went up on poles in the Center and the Heights because state law required it.

Paid for by the American Legion and mounted by the Highway Department, the flags last year were put on display for two months beginning in May to coincide with the visit of the First Cavalry’s Banshee Troop from Fort Drum, which was here to honor one of its fallen comrades: Shelter Island’s Joseph Theinert, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

The annual LIPA fee was $5 for each flag, pro-rated to $1.25 for the flags to be displayed for two months.

Last week, LIPA’s COO, Mike Hervey, wrote Town Councilman Peter Reich and County Legislator Ed Romaine to tell them a new interpretation of the law will mean the company won’t ever seek to levy the fee.

“You may recall that last year we committed to working towards a permanent resolution” of the fee issue, Mr. Hervey wrote the two officials. “We worked with the NYS Authorities Budget Office who regulates us in this regard and received a letter opinion from them that changed their previous interpretation which was the root of the problem. LIPA has since changed our tariff to comply with the new opinion which now allows temporary attachments of patriotic symbols, including flags without a fee. There is no longer any charge for attaching the American flag. However, as with any utility, you will have to apply for attachment permission.”

Mr. Hervey added, “It is most unfortunate that we were all put in that position last year. I know that this summer will bring a better result. I look forward to visiting Shelter Island throughout the summer and wish the best for you all. If you have any questions whatsoever, feel free to contact me directly.”

Mr. Hervey had covered the $23.75 himself to resolve the issue last year but Newsday broke a story reporting that the utility had insisted on levying the charge. The story came as something of a surprise here, where town officials had said the issue had been settled, at least as far as the town was concerned.

A brouhaha erupted anyway.

American Legion Mitchell Post Commander Mike Loriz said, “A lot of people in our outfit are angry … I’m just astonished” at the company.

Town Councilman Peter Reich commented, “It’s not about the fee; it’s about the principle.”

County Legislator Ed Romaine complained that most of the poles along the route belong to Verizon, not LIPA, and yet LIPA initially wanted to charge for all of them anyway. He said LIPA was an “out of control company” that “has done so many skunky things.” Verizon, he said, never demanded any fee.

State Senator Ken LaValle commented, “The Long Island Power Authority’s assertion that it cannot allow the placement of American flags on its light poles without charging a fee is an over interpretation of the Public Authorities Law.”

Senator Lavalle (R-Port Jefferson) said, “Section 2897 of the Public Authorities Law was never meant to be applied to patriotic displays. Rather, the law was meant to address leasing agreements with for-profit companies.”

The flags are now planned to be an annual display to honor veterans. “It is a patriotic display that we decided to do, at Dave Gurney’s suggestion, which will be an annual display,” commented Commander Loriz in an email. “The idea is to get 100 flags up by Memorial Day and take them down shortly after July 4th. The highway guys do the labor, the town covers the insurance and the Legion manages the finances through a separate, dedicated account.”