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PURA Hearings: Newtown, Redding and Ridgefield Describe Frustration With CL&P

Lack of communication, underestimation of the seriousness of last year's storms, and inaccurate information characterize the problems highlighted in testimony from three towns.

 

In the continued wake of last year's storms, the First Selectmen of Redding, Ridgefield and Newtown presented frustration filled testimony to the State of Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority in New Britain on May 25. 

The testimony was a cooperation between First Selectmen Rudy Marconi of Ridgefield, Natalie Ketcham of Redding, and Patricia Llodra of Newtown.  Bill Brennan, First Selectman of Wilton was not able to participate in the presentation but his pre-filed testimony was included. 

Llodra said that the presentation lasted the entire morning.  “We each had comments  and we responded to questions from the Attorney General’s office and the Community Council.   There were a lot of questions about the performance of CL&P at the municipal level.”  

Citing the lack of tree trimming or telephone pole maintenance before the storms, Llodra felt that cutting CL&P any slack for not being better prepared for the storm would not be appropriate. “I think, get over it.  It is a corporation driven by the bottom line; but we are customers and we have to have some rights in that relationship.”  

Lisa Lewis,  the case coordinator and liaison between the participants and PURA, said,  “We finished the hearings, but the records are still open.” 

The Hearing process was based on interrogatories sent out to the towns.  “The hearings are a response to the interrogatories,” Lewis said. “The purpose was to gather information on the storm and the restoration of service.  The subject matter covered communications from customers and municipalities, about infrastructure maintenance, vegetation management, and CL&P's emergency plans for outage restoration and storm preparation.”

The lack of communication between CL&P and the towns was a major topic of discussion, according to Lewis. 

The purpose of the written testimony was, “to provide PURA with information about CL&P’s two-storm recovery response,” from the perspective of the municipalities.  The goal was to provide PURA and CL&P with information that will help the utility companies to develop a more effective disaster planning strategy.  

The three municipalities were in agreement that CL&P failed to adequately communicate with officials.  Natalie Ketcham, Redding, described the situation that left "town employees and resident volunteers alone on the front line, with little or no reliable information from the utility on restoration activities.  It was an unfair, untenable position to be in, for although CL&P commonly refers to its partnership with municipalities, in reality they are a privately held utility and towns are customers, without any authority in restoration plans.” 

The disorganization of CL&P s workers caused major delays in the Selectmen’s abilities to assist in making the best of the situation. The testimony is rife with frustration.  “AT&T crews seemed to be uninformed of where CL&P was working or when they were cleared to move into various areas.”

Further, the testimony states that because CL&P did not provide an adequate number of crews to the towns, restoration efforts of the town’s crews were held up.  Towns had local tree crews but in the absence of line crews, progress was halted.  “Tree crews cannot work without line crews, and line crews cannot work without tree crews,” the testimony states.  

When CL&P executives were announcing that power would be restored within certain deadlines, the Selectmen said, “It just didn’t happen.” 

Testimony states that residents felt betrayed by CL&P as well as by town officials.   “Either CL&P’s top officials didn’t know what was going on or they were not telling the public-a very bad situation in a widespread disaster. “

The selectmen also agreed that CL&P did not accurately assess the damage in their towns. The testimony calls for “a liaison and one line crew assigned to each town, who would work with each town to develop a large scale recovery plans, and drill those plans on a regular basis.”  

The testimony stated, “CL&Ps priority seemed to be to get the most meters restored as soon as possible. Our town’s priorities were to get critical infrastructure and special needs residents on line first.” 

At the Hearing, Llodra spoke about the dire effect the disaster had on individuals.  She recounted stories of a mother with a severely handicapped daughter could no longer manage her daughter’s care,  a 94 year old man who was the last to regain power on his street, and became disoriented and fearful; a newborn baby who developed respiratory problems but could not be taken to the hospital because the street was blocked at both ends. The overcrowding, and “no more room,” at the Danbury Hospital.

Llodra added, “The three day wait for the first line crew to arrive despite assurances that we had one in the community.”

For Llodra, the size of her town increased her sense of unfairness when all towns received one line crew.  Newtown is 60 square miles and 265 miles of road, compared to towns 1/10 the size, she noted.  

Llodra described the time before the restoration of power as “disorganization, disarray, and confusion” in the days and weeks that followed the storms.  

The testimony from Ketcham included some reassurances that the attention to the storm has produced some welcome improvements from CL&P. Every town has now been assigned a liaison who seems better equipped and more empowered to be effective in emergencies. 

Attorney Monte Frank, who represented the municipalities in the hearings, said, “What the towns have done is extraordinary.  The four towns voluntarily participated in a regulatory process, in order to tell the authority of the experiences on the front lines due to lack of planning, prior to the storms hitting.  I was thrilled with their initiative, and think it will make a difference in the recommendations that will come out of the process." 

A. G. P. May 29, 2012 at 01:00 PM
I can't help wondering if this would have ever been a story if CL&P had spent the last 40 yrs burying lines instead of (not) replacing poles (and giving up on tree trimming when people got pissed about the "hatchet jobs" from the yr before).
John Symon May 30, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I'm still waiting for the hearing on how Ridgefield handled the two emergencies....
Think First June 04, 2012 at 03:40 AM
I am so glad that Pat Llodra participated in the PURA Hearings on Newtown's behalf. Thank you Pat!! I would appreciate a follow-up article detailing the changes CL&P has actually made to date based on what they have learned. What exactly will this town "liaison" do for Newtown? Please elaborate on what, "better equipped and more empowered to be effective in emergencies" actually means. Why is CL&P assigning only one crew to a town as large as Newtown? Seems like that is simply a statement/promise to try and make our complaints go away. Given the size of Newtown, how will one crew really be effective? That is a joke! Lastly, I'm surprised and disappointed at the lack of response from residents to this article. Either we are all too busy enjoying our electricity now, and we have forgotten what we went through last fall. Or we don't expect CL&P to listen to us, and improve their processes and service. We cannot forget what happened and allow it to happen again. Newtown, please speak up.
Al June 05, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Newtown needs to keep its Greens ... CT&P need to cut dead trees that they leave to fall on cables before any live tree will fall on them..

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