Hearings begin on CL&P's post-storm efforts
Nearly 60 area residents and officials gathered at Town Hall Wednesday night to air grievances about Connecticut Light & Power's response to outages caused by the nor'easter on March 13 and 14.
The public hearing was the first of four ordered by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to review CL&P's efforts after the storm.
Led by state Department of Public Utility Control Commissioner John Betkoski, the hour-long public hearing focused on residents' frustrations with being left in the dark for days after the torrent of wind and rain that Sen. L. Scott Frantz said, "created a mini-perfect storm in the town of New Canaan and the surrounding areas."
New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker said, "I understand it was a severe storm not like anything we've seen in years and years and years in this area, but the lack of information and the lack of the sense of responsiveness (from CL&P) is a major concern that we had to deal with."David Jonker, New Canaan's emergency management director, attributed much of the town's success in addressing the storm damage to a partnership achieved late in its aftermath between CL&P workers and town officials.
"It wasn't until we had a representative from CL&P in our Emergency Operations Center that we could say, `This is a priority site for us. This is the address.' [Then CL&P] could identify the circuit and they could dedicate resources to getting that problem solved. ... But that came several days into the incident."
"To ask a lineman to work 18 or 20 hours a day in an emergency restoration is not out of the ordinary," he said, adding, "This storm could have been reduced by at least three days duration if our men were allowed to work extended hours."
Unikas said he received reports from linesmen during the storm who wanted to work additional hours, but were "being told to go to bed at 9 at night."
Ellen Morrone of Norwalk complained that, even after she and several others filed reports to CL&P about a live wire sprawled across her street, linesmen failed to address the situation until a neighbor asked a crew reading newspapers at a Dunkin' Donuts to repair it.
In addition to gripes of a poor response to outages from CL&P, community members aired ideas about how to reduce some of the major causes of those outages.
Arne Thune, an engineer from New Canaan, suggested that local and state governments begin promoting the institution of underground utility lines, which he said could eliminate some black outs all together.
"We have all our oil lines underground, we have our water mains underground, we have gas lines underground -- everything is underground except for the one thing that we depend the most on, and that is electric power," he said.
The majority of the trees that toppled and obstructed electrical wires during storm were rotten or a particular pine variety, according to Wendell.
"We should have an assessment of what kind of trees it was that caused these problems," he said, adding, "Perhaps we could consider appropriate ordinances or regulations to prohibit or at least disincentivize people from planting trees of those varieties near the roads."
The public hearing series will continue in Westport on April 12, Fairfield on April 14 and Greenwich on April 15.