The 80 acre campus of the former Fairfield Hills Mental Hospital in Newtown is serving as the staging area for line and tree crews coming in from as far away as Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Upstate New York. By 9 p.m. Tuesday evening, approximately one hundred bucket trucks were refueling and lining up around Newtown’s Municipal building in Fairfield Hills.
The crews enjoyed a meal under a large catering tent before heading out to work, according to CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross. “These are 24/7 operations. We have to be. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
In meetings with CL&P operations and corporate representatives following Tropical Storm Irene, First Selectman Pat Llodra and Highway Department Director Fred Hurley discussed the idea of staging at Fairfield Hills as a way of boosting efficiency. Irene did more damage to the eastern part of the state, Gross explained, and so staging areas were concentrated there, at locations including the Tanger Outlets and the Brooklyn Fairgrounds.
There is no public list of staging areas, but there are eight currently operating around the state. Some of the trucks based at Fairfield Hills will be sent to Ridgefield, Brookfield, New Milford and southern Litchfield County and the other towns in the vicinity from the New York border to the Naugatuck Valley. Each site can accommodate up to 400 people, and serve a range of functions from serving meals, issuing work orders, conducting meetings, and even lodging. Workers at the Fairfield Hills location are bused to and from hotels.
The local community’s role is part of a larger plan that’s being put in place by CL&P, Llodra explained. “Our piece of it is to interact with CL&P on the staging, on having access to crews from out of state that will serve Newtown, on getting power crews, line crews and tree crews that will work with our public works department to clear roads, getting live lines off the roads, and then working on a general plan for restoration,” said Llodra.
As of Sunday night, the town had identified some 168 locations where roads were blocked by downed trees and power lines. All but about 60 homes were without power. On Tuesday, six crews were deployed in Newtown, she said.
“Newtown and Monroe are at ground zero for this event, we have the greatest number of needs of all the communities that were impacted by the storm,” Llodra continued, “so many of the trucks that are staged here will be trucks that serve Newtown and Monroe.” About half the trucks are on the road at any one time, Llodra explained.
Road clearing and powering the towns infrastructure is almost done, but CL&P is still doing its damage assessment, so a restoration plan isn’t yet in place. The estimate they give you is for when they expect 99 percent of restoration will be achieved, Llodra said, which they will hear Wednesday. And according to CL&P’s Gross, there is still much to be done in northern Hartford County and Northern Litchfield County where “there are numerous road closures that we’re still getting in with the local officials as to what the situation is.”
For people who endured a week or more without power during Irene, patience is thin.
“What’s the level of progress we can expect to see every day, that’s what’s most important to us,” Llodra said, “but we will not know that Wednesday. That’s part of the day-to-day plan we develop with our CL&P partners – what is the work they’re going to do every single day?”
CL&P president and Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Butler provides an overview of the situation at daily press conferences, but Gross said CL&P has town liaisons assigned to 111 towns of the 149 that they service. Town officials are constantly being updated, receiving town-specific updates, he said, and can provide that information.