Bloomfield Mayor Sydney Schulman told reporters Monday that while he prides himself on keeping his cool, he had reached the breaking point due to what he called Connecticut Light & Power’s “travesty” of a restoration effort in his town.
Thirty percent of Bloomfield customers were still without power Monday afternoon as Schulman called the restoration process a disorganized mess. He said the town is looking into taking legal action against the utility.
“I’m not going to say I’m disappointed because I don’t think it’s a question of disappointment. It’s a question of a screwed up process, ladies and gentleman, a process that has been screwed up from the beginning,” he said.
Over the course of more than a week, the company had misrepresented the amount of resources it was devoting to the town, he said. It was Tuesday, three days after the storm, by the time a single crew made its way to Bloomfield, he said.
Schulman said that state Rep. David Baram, D-Bloomfield, was told that on Wednesday the town would have 15 crews working. Instead, they got one additional crew and neither crew stuck around very long, he said.
“The manager informed me that both the one from Tuesday and the one from Wednesday were pulled out and sent to Avon and, I think, Simsbury. So we had none,” he said.
He acknowledged that more crews have arrived and have been working hard, but said that communication with the utility has been difficult. While there has been a CL&P liaison in town, Schulman said they haven’t had access to helpful information. Some of the roads liaisons have reported as energized are still in the dark, he said.
Several locations that the town identified as priority concerns have not been restored, he said. The town manager gave a list of 11 priority buildings that needed their power restored quickly and only three were energized by Friday night, he said.
“These are our priorities? Three up? Out of 11? Give me a break,” he said.
Schulman said the utility has had trouble finding certain roads, including the west side of Simsbury Road, where he lives. He said he hasn’t been able to answer questions from residents regarding certain streets because CL&P can’t tell him what circuit they are on.
The company keeps track of circuits by box numbers rather than streets, so without the box number he said they could provide no information. Representatives told him that in order to figure out which roads correspond to which box they would have to flip through thousands of pages, he said.
“I’ve been accused by my grandchildren of not being with the electronic age, but I don’t understand CL&P. What do you mean you’ve got to go through thousands of pages in order to coordinate which streets are on which box? You have it all on hard copy and you don’t have it on the computer?” he said.
Baram, who was one of several lawmakers at the press conference, said he has been hearing stories of personal suffering from his constituents.
“My phone has been off the wall for the last week from people with horror stories, people who need dialysis and can’t get to the doctor’s office, people who need medicine and can’t go to the drug store to refill them,” he said.
Other residents have complained that their food has spoiled and they cannot get to a grocery store, he said. Some are in a bind because trees ripped the wires from their homes and they do not have the money to pay an electrician to reinstall them, he said.
The continued outages are also an “economic disaster for businesses in Bloomfield.” Some of them have been closed for over eight days, he said.
Baram said he would be supporting legislation that requires utility companies to meet benchmarked performance standards or face millions of dollars in fines. He said he would also like to see legislation requiring CL&P to pay contracted linesmen within 30 days.
Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said the utility should change its policy of not offering prepayments to out-of-state contractors before a storm. He said the restoration effort in Massachusetts was more successful because that state’s utility company offers prepayments. So if a contractor leaves his state for Massachusetts and finds out he is no longer needed, he still gets some compensation.
“It’s not surprising they would sign up to go to Massachusetts and perform service there because they are guaranteed some form of minimum payment even if the storm does not hit,” he said.
CL&P spokeswoman Katie Blint said the utility understands state and municipal leaders have many questions and frustrations about the process, but said CL&P remains focused on the restoration effort. She said there will be plenty of time to sort out the questions once everyone is back online.
“What we’re focused on right now is restoring power to our customers as quickly and as safely as possible,” she said. “We have a historic number of crews here to help. More than 2,600.”
Even with all those crews, Schulman was skeptical the company could achieve its most recent goal of having 99 percent of customers restored by 11:59 Monday night.
“Not unless a miracle happens, and you know, I guess we’re getting in to the season where we believe in miracle. I can’t see 99 percent by tonight. Not in Bloomfield and not in West Hartford and not in Farmington,” he said.