Municipal officials weren’t as kind to Connecticut Light & Power as some lawmakers were when they had an opportunity to question the utility Monday during a hearing on its storm preparation and restoration efforts.
Lebanon First Selectwoman Joyce Okonuk said CL&P crews from out of state came into town and sat outside the library for hours waiting for someone to give them direction. She said there were also tree crews ready to cut down trees, but they couldn’t do it without CL&P.
“There was no communication. It was horrible,” Okonuk told lawmakers.
She said the liaison for CL&P couldn’t have been nicer, but they had no more information than town officials. She said to add insult to injury CL&P asked their liaison to fax or email them an update when the town had no power.
Then when CL& P did communicate with the liaison, Okonuk said they talked about grid names, which don’t correspond with street names and neither the liaison or the town had a grid map.
“The crews that were here were terrific…they were not the problem,” Okonuk said. “All I could think of was what if this was a category one or two? What if this was the middle of winter, freezing temperatures in an ice storm? How would those people in seven, in my case eight, nine days keep warm? How would we be able to communicate with them?”
She said CL&P President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Butler talked about how difficult it was to get crews to the state because the devastation was so widespread.
“If you see the hurricane coming up the coastline why are you calling them?” Okonuk said referring to some of the New England states the company planned to bring to the state after the storm.
“Lag time to get those crews here was unacceptable,” Okonuk said.
Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia, who has known Okonuk for years, listened intently to her testimony.
“I frankly don’t think CL&P could have done a worse job than they did if they tried. For a big company they really are an embarrassment to themselves. And I’m sure from this hearing they’re going to make a concerted effort to improve their communication, to improve the way they not only communicate with the chief elected officials, but with other working people who have come in to help them. This is ridiculous. I don’t know how many more mistakes they could have made,” Prague said.
But eastern Connecticut wasn’t the only hard hit part of the state, Ridgefield was also without power for days.
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said 140 roads were closed for days so they began opening roads themselves.
“It was probably the single most stressful week I’ve had in the 13 years I’ve been doing this,” Marconi admitted.
He said they had to get aggressive and use the reverse 911 system in order to communicate with residents. They used it twice a day for an entire week.
“Line crews that’s the problem. They didn’t have enough line crews,” Marconi said. “We were ready to attack all those down trees. The problem is we didn’t have the line crews.”
He said there is no legislative solution to this, but he suggested regulators look closely at any proposed rate increase.
“We pay the highest electric costs—highest second only to the state of Hawaii—and look at the service we got,” Marconi said.
Marconi also suggested the state failed to deliver the meals ready to eat, ice, and water in a timely fashion. In fact they were so tardy the towns took it into their own hands and rented a refrigerated Ryder truck to come pick up the commodities from Rentschler Field in East Hartford, only to be told they didn’t have the right paperwork. Marconi said the driver they sent had to wait 12 hours to get the commodities.
Sen. John Fonfara, co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology committee, said that lawmakers didn’t hold the hearing “to beat people up.”
He said it was a way for lawmakers to gather information and some of that information still needs to be vetted.
He said the truth of the matter is when one local official talked about CL&P crews leaving one town to restore power in a neighboring town, it was because that’s where power needed to be restored first. He said if that neighboring town wasn’t restored, then the town the trucks drove away from wouldn’t be fixed.
But in hindsight Fonfara admitted the order of the testimony could have been reversed to give local elected officials a chance to speak before the utilities. He also wished he would have asked the state to testify about the commodities distribution issues Marconi cited in his testimony.
Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, who represents a part of the state that was without power for more than a week, said she does regret not asking the utility companies tougher questions, but it was difficult with so many lawmakers to get recognized.
“I do wish the president and chief executive officer of CL&P would have stayed to listen to the first selectmen and mayors,” Flexer said.
Sen. President Donald Williams, said none of what local elected officials testified about “was news to me.”
“There’s no question when it comes to communication after the event, when it comes to clearing roads, making sure emergency vehicles can pass through immediately after a hurricane event, there is a lot more work that needs to be done,” Williams said. “We’ve heard also there should be different standards for tree trimming.”