After Tropical Storm Irene municipal officials gave lawmakers an earful about Connecticut Light & Power’s inability to communicate, and Tuesday’s hearing on the October snowstorm only amplified many of those same concerns.
“I cannot emphasize how frustrating it was for 100 percent of our town to be completely in the dark for four straight days,” Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman told the eight-member panel appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. She said it wasn’t until day 6 of the disaster that Farmington Valley towns could confirm crews were working in their communities.
“Where were the crews?” Roxbury First Selectwoman Barbara Henry said. “We were an island onto ourselves.”
Tolland Town Manager Steve Werbner said they were assigned two crews for three hours a piece the first two days of the storm. He said when the town went out an rented, at its own expense, portable lights and held their public work crews over in order to assist with the restoration efforts they were told the CL&P crews they were helping had to leave at 9 p.m. because they had reached their mandatory 16-hour work limit.
On the ninth day after the storm, Werbner said the town still had 15 roads closed because of downed trees and wires. It took them six hours to open those 15 roads, which he said should have been opened days before to provide safety to the residents.
At one point, feeling pretty much on their own with little help from CL&P, Tolland’s public work crews went out and assessed the damage and overlaid that damage on a GIS map which it gave to CL&P, Werbner said.
The CL&P municipal liaison told Werbner the mapping information has never been provided before.
“I can’t believe that little Tolland is providing information that the utility can not provide to us in terms of the assessment and charting that on a GIS map,” Werbner said.
Somers First Selectwoman Lisa Pellegrini said her crews did something similar. They went out and counted the 28 damaged transformers and 116 utility poles and gave CL&P the information about where each was located. She said the CL&P’s liaison told her the information was fabulous and no town has done that before.
She said CL&P crews didn’t show up in Somers until seven days after the storm. She said most of town still didn’t have power 24-hours before CL&P’s self-imposed deadline of Nov. 6.
At one point during the storm, the town of Somers had a priority phone call where one of its residents was having trouble breathing and they had to have emergency management run through the woods to the home and rescue the person because the roads weren‘t cleared.
“We even commandeered an ATV,” Pellegrini said.
But as bad as the situation was South Windsor Town Manager Matthew Galligan said there was a silver lining.
“My community has told me they now don’t want government being run like a business,” he quipped.
In all seriousness though a resident was having a heart attack and Galligan said he had to put the lives of 12 other individuals at risk because they had to walk through live wires in order to retrieve the resident, who eventually died in the hospital two days later.
“It’s totally unacceptable,” Galligan said.
He said in his town had 179 streets that were blocked and his crews were able to take that number down to 35 streets, which they could not access because the CL&P crews were not there to tell them whether the downed wires were energized or not.
He said it was nine or 10 days before those streets were cleared. He said the CL&P crews from out-of-state should be embedded with public work crews who know the town and the priorities. He said when CL&P finally did assign them crews they were restoring areas which weren’t priorities for the town.
West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka said the outage demonstrated that local emergency management plans work and communities have the ability to come together. But Slifka, whose town was out of power for 12 days, said it also could be a case study for how not to operate in a crisis.
He said around day five or six when they were still unable to obtain accurate information from CL&P liaisons about the work going on in the town, he sent West Hartford Police Officers to West Farms Mall where the utility crews were gathering to get their assignments to find out where the crews were going. He said when they got back the information it almost always conflicted with the information the CL&P liaison had provided.
When this discrepancy in information made it into the media, those crews were told not to talk to the police officers, Slifka said. Then on day six when the was requesting detailed circuit and mapping information his liaison used what information he could to hand draw them a map. Later a CL&P intern with a highlighter was returning maps to the town.
Then when the liaison told them CL&P wouldn’t meet the midnight Sunday restoration goal, Slifka shared the information with his community, but the information was contrary to what Butler was telling the media during the briefings.
“I woke up the next morning to media inquiries telling me essentially CL&P was saying that I had made that up. As we all know clearly I was right,” Slifka said. “Perhaps the problem here was our liaison was too honest with us.”
He said what the towns need is accurate information even if it’s bad news. He said when residents have accurate information they can make arrangements and they can find patience if they know work is being done around them.
Many of the municipal officials said information about circuits and what streets they correspond with would be good information to have so they can relay that information to the residents. They also suggested improvements should be made to the liaison program and maybe having a meeting once a year with the liaison would help with the relationship.