Complaint: CL&P crews not working fast enough

A CL&P line crew works to restore power along Pennsylvania Avenue in Niantic on Tuesday.
A CL&P line crew works to restore power along Pennsylvania Avenue in Niantic on Tuesday.

On the color-coded power outage map on Connecticut Light & Power's website, southeastern Connecticut Tuesday night was mostly purple and black, the colors representing areas where 61 percent to 100 percent of customers were without electricity.

As of Tuesday evening, North Stonington, Salem, Lisbon and Griswold were in the black, with almost 100 percent of CL&P customers in those towns still without power. Ledyard was at 89 percent, Montville at 80 percent, Preston at 80 percent and Lyme at 94 percent.

The "lucky" towns included East Lyme - a little more than half the town had no power - and New London, where just 24 percent lacked power.

But for many the problem was less about the outage itself and more about not knowing when power would be restored.

Regionwide, officials and residents bemoaned what they said was a lack of communication about the utility's plan of attack.

"We did have a liaison (from CL&P) that landed on us maybe a half-hour ago," Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn Jr. said Tuesday morning, "but we haven't yet determined how that's going to help us."

Allyn and officials in other towns said they were waiting for CL&P crews to arrive and help their public works departments, which needed the utility to advise them on live wires.

"(It would help) if all they did was just drive around and either put out surveyor's tape or drive around with public works behind them and say, 'That one's good, that one isn't,'" Allyn said.

Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden said, half-joking, that he didn't care how the help arrived. "Send out a guy in a pickup truck," he said. "If these wires aren't live, we'll cut the trees."

'They seem overwhelmed'

Lyden said a CL&P crew had finally arrived to help remove a downed tree that was causing dangerous driving conditions on Route 85 near Salem Country Gardens. Although trees were down all over town, Lyden said, no roads were inaccessible; emergency personnel could get to every road, even if by detours.

Lyden said the town was monitoring its residents who use oxygen or have other medical conditions to make sure their generators were still working.

"They seem overwhelmed," Lyden said of CL&P. "From what I see of the size of the storm, the size of the damage, it was a very bad storm. I know it wasn't a hurricane, it was downgraded to a tropical storm right before it hit here, but it caused a lot of damage to wires."

In Lyme, CL&P crews that spent all day Monday clearing the roads for safety reasons are now moving on to the restoration phase, said Lee Watkins, Lyme's emergency management director.

First Selectman Ralph Eno was out with a CL&P foreman Tuesday afternoon to point out broken poles and downed wires that need to be fixed, Watkins said. The restoration crew, eight trucks in all, is made up of out-of-town workers from as near as Boston and as far away as Minnesota and the Carolinas. They were expected to arrive by Tuesday night.

In Griswold, First Selectmen Philip Anthony Jr. said he has been calling for information on CL&P's plan of action since Sunday. Anthony met with CL&P representatives Tuesday and, as a result, CL&P vowed to keep a liasion in town until power is restored.

"We've cleared our roads, we've done all our due diligence during the course of the hurricane," Anthony said. "Now it's CL&P that we need to coordinate what's needed and to restore power to Griswold."

In Ledyard, resident Kim Prescott said she was alarmed to see cars drive under wires with large trees hanging precariously on them on busy Route 117. In a neighborhood off Long Cove Road, she said, a neighbor put a handmade sign out warning people to beware of live wires after waiting too long for authorities to get there.

"For 800 trucks being out, it seems like you should at least see a few here and there," Prescott said.

Prescott said she's driven around her town and others the past few days and sees the same scene everywhere. She said she's worried about her father. He lives in Waterford and has a heart condition, she said, and has been worked up about the lack of information.

"I think that what everyone is really frustrated about," Prescott said, "is there's still a dangerous situation going into the third day, and it's not being taken care of. Hurricane Bob, it was the first day or so and then you saw the cleanup effort. But we're not seeing the cleanup efforts."

Officials tour

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Tuesday morning that CL&P was bringing in additional crews from Colorado, other Western states and Vancouver, B.C., to help address the power outages that extended into the third day since Tropical Storm Irene hit the region.

Courtney and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman toured the mobile charging station Old Saybrook officials had set up at the high school.

"Clearly, the size of the problem has overwhelmed the existing work force in Connecticut," said Courtney, whose office has received complaints from residents that utility trucks did not hit the roads immediately after the storm Sunday.

The federal Department of Energy told Courtney by email Tuesday morning that the DOE was was sending over William Bryan, deputy assistant secretary for infrastructure security and energy restoration in its Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, to assess the need.

The crews coming in from Colorado were, as of Tuesday morning, reportedly in the Des Moines, Iowa, area, Courtney said.

Courtney said the priority now was to ensure that power is restored in a timely manner. "We're going to have time to break this down once the recovery is over," he said. "We're going to have plenty of time to get some postgame analysis."

'A major priority'

Al Lara, a spokesman for CL&P, said southeastern Connecticut is a priority for the company and that this part of the state suffered "the most severe damage" with the number of trees and wires down.

"Southeastern Connecticut is a major priority because of the damage we've gotten and identified so early on in the restoration," Lara said. "Specifically, the greater New London area, that's been a very high priority. It's just that there's so much damage in so many different areas, you aren't likely to spot crews in your specific neighborhood."

Lara said crews have been at major intersections instead, working on larger lines that carry power to neighborhoods. They need to restore those areas first, he said.

Lara said the company first works to de-energize lines so fire crews and tree crews can get in, then restores power to hospitals and emergency responders and makes sure roads are clear to those facilities. It then moves on to waste-water treatments plants. Tuesday, he said, the priority had shifted to getting schools back online as well as areas where there are schools and fire houses nearby.

During a typical storm, Lara said, CL&P dispatches about 100 crews of two or three people each, whether a line or tree crew. He said the company dispatched almost 10 times that number for damage from Irene.

Lara had no information on how many crews had been dispatched to southeastern Connecticut in particular.

Each town should have an "account executive," he said, describing what town officials referred to as a liaison. That person lets town officials know about CL&P's progress while also conveying information from the towns to the power company, he said.

The company will eventually quantify how many poles, transformers and other equipment were destroyed by the storm. For now, CL&P is focusing on restoring power.

"You're looking at a reconstruction of the distribution system for much of the Eastern Seaboard, from the Carolinas to Maine," Lara said.

Pleased in Stonington

In Stonington, First Selectman Ed Haberek said he is very pleased with the cooperation from CL&P and the work it has done to restore power. Before the storm hit, the utility asked the town if it wanted a CL&P liaison assigned to the town's emergency operations center. Haberek accepted, and Daphne Vayos, an attorney for CL&P's parent company, Northeast Utilities, responded to the emergency operations center early Sunday afternoon and has been there since.

Vayos has worked closely with police and town officials to assign CL&P crews to areas of damage. As of early Tuesday afternoon, 74 percent of Stonington customers were without power compared with 95 percent on Monday. Areas of Pawcatuck and Mystic were restored on Tuesday.

"Daphne's been fabulous. We'd actually like to hire her to work for us," Haberek joked Tuesday afternoon in the emergency operations center.

Day staff writers Jenna Cho and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

By the numbers

Percentage of CL&P customers with no power as of 5 p.m./9:30 p.m. Tuesday:

East Lyme: 55%, 55%

Griswold: 100%, 74%

Groton: 76%, 71%

Ledyard: 88%, 88%

Lyme/Old Lyme: 75%, 71%

Montville: 86%, 79%

New London: 24%, 24%

North Stonington: 100%, 100%

Old Saybrook: 69%, 66%

Preston: 93%, 80%

Salem: 100%, 100%

Stonington: 72%, 71%

Waterford: 63%, 56%

Source: CL&P website


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