State orders Eversource to improve storm response in Ridgefield and Newtown
Efforts to hold Eversource accountable for storm preparation and response that left thousands without power — some for a week or more — got going this week, with state utilities regulators responding to a joint request by Ridgefield and Newtown for an investigation.
“But for the grace of God no one lost their life in this storm, or as a result of emergency medical services not being able to get to them,” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Friday.
“But, believe me, we had close to if not 200 roads in Ridgefield that were blocked, and we needed help,” Marconi said. “And we got nothing for almost four days — a little over four days.”
The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) issued orders Thursday requiring Eversource to improve communication with officials in both towns, spelling out specific steps to be taken, according to Ridgefield’s Office of Emergency Management.
But that seems only the start of a longer process.
“We need to keep this on the burner and keep it hot,” Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi told fellow selectmen Wednesday night.
Marconi was seeking support — which he got in a 5-to-0 Board of Selectmen’s vote — for a joint action with Newtown to push PURA for an investigation of the Eversource’s response to Tropical Storm Isaias, with the two towns participating as intervening parties.
“I think it’s important that the Board of Selectmen agree to move forward, that we’re united in this,” Marconi said.
Ridgefield’s Office of Emergency Management said in release Friday that PURA had ordered Eversource to work with Ridgefield and Newtown officials to identify areas where “health and safety risk to residents is amplified by the power outage” and “prioritize power restoration efforts in these areas.”
PURA also ordered Eversource to provide communities with “accurate, timely and consistent” information on restoration efforts following storms, in keeping with its long-standing emergency response plan, Ridgefield’s emergency management office said.
Other municipalities have reacted to Eversource’s storm response in various ways, including talk of lawsuits, as heated reaction to outages that lasted from Aug. 4 to Aug. 11 comes to a boil.
“The Mayor of Danbury filed a legal suit for reimbursement of damages. We’ve been advised we should first file this,” Marconi told fellow selectmen Wednesday night.
“...Our attorneys have advised us it’s best that we allow the PURA investigation to take place to get the information,” Marconi said, “...and then look at the next step.”
Marconi said the joint action with Newtown developed from a conversation with Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal.
“Redding already filed on Monday, on their own, as well as Bridgeport.” Marconi said. “I spoke with Dan. We were the towns with the highest outages. He said: ‘We’re host to Eversource —to Eversource operations center there in western Connecticut — and they had from Indiana 24 or 30 trucks that sat for over 24 hours without an assignment...’ ”
“We saw that over and over, there were multiple crews in town,” Marconi said.
But Marconi made it clear Wednesday night that the town may eventually go beyond participation in the PURA investigation, and bring a lawsuit against Eversource. He recalled an inadequate PURA investigation after storms in 2011, when Dannel Malloy was governor.
“As we saw in previous storms Irene and Snowtober, Governor Malloy asked for an investigation, and it was really a very very high level — no detail,” Marconi said. “There were some recommendations which came out of it, like the emergency operations plan — which they obviously have violated, clearly.”
Marconi left the door open for a lawsuit, possible by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, or WestCOG.
“Why are we doing this?” he said. “...We can take advantage of this investigation to make a determination whether Ridgefield, or the COG, or a class action suite — to make sure we have standing. To go into court at this point, it may get thrown out because we don’t have complete information. That’s what the attorneys are advising us to do.
We want to get to the detail to see if we have a case to make for all the businesses that have lost thousands and thousands,” he said.
A release Friday from Ridgefield’s Office of Emergency Management summarized PURA’s response to the filing by Ridgefield and Newtown:
“PURA issued the following orders,” it said.
“1. Eversource’s appropriate incident commander or municipal liaison shall, within six hours of this ruling, communicate with each of Ridgefield’s and Newtown’s Office of Emergency Management including, but not limited to, speaking directly with the Town’s Emergency Management Director. This communication shall identify the additional resources to be made available for storm response in each respective town and provide detailed estimates for the remaining power restoration efforts in the respective town.
“2. Eversource shall coordinate with the officials of Ridgefield and Newtown to identify areas within the towns where the health and safety risk to residents is amplified by the power outage, and Eversource all prioritize power restoration efforts in these areas, as consistent with Eversource’s approved Emergency Restoration Plan (ERP).
“3. Eversource shall comply with its obligation under its ERP to provide its ‘communities with accurate, timely, and consistent information’ by regularly updating the towns on its restoration progress. Specifically, Eversource shall immediately notify the towns of any delays to the estimated restoration times.”
Two critical steps
In a phone call Friday to The Ridgefield Press an angry Marconi outlined what he said are two critical steps Eversource should immediately take.
“If Eversource wants to improve it relationship with municipalities — and that’s up to them — then I would, whenever they could, have a meeting and have two things, very simple, that will not cost them a lot of money, that they need to change, now:
“...Those two changes come with a program called ‘make safe’ … and what that is, is as soon as the storm hits or even six or seven or two hours before, if they can, stage a crew — meaning and man and a truck — that would be assigned to each municipality for the purpose of neutralizing downed trees and wires, and allowing our highway (department) to open up a road for emergency service...
“The second area of immediate change that we need is communication,” Marconi said. “There was no communication of any value between the liaison assigned to our community and the Town of Ridgefield.
“And let me clarify. We could call the liaison at any time of the day, and talk to them,” he said. “But for day after day after day, they continually said ‘We cannot give you any information.’ They would not report how many crews were in our area, if at all. Nor would they allow us to give them a priority list that we had already assessed, with eyes and boots on the ground — our Police Department and Fire Department — we had verification, we had pictures, and yet we could do nothing with that information.
“Those two items are the most crucial, and need to be addressed today, because we are in the middle of hurricane season,” Marconi said. “And if we have another storm in two weeks — which is possible — we will experience the same thing again.
“And we can’t,” he said.
“We ask that Eversource work with us, not against us,” he said. “In emergency situations we’re all on the same team, and they should play as a team — not what they demonstrated in Storm Isaias.
“If Eversource wants to be able to have the spirit of collaboration to show PURA that it’s willing to improve, that will go a long way in helping them in this entire investigation,” Marconi said. “But to retreat back to Berlin, Connecticut, or Boston, Massachusetts, and again remain silent, will not bode well in the future.”
Many parties will be looking to get involved.
“You’re going to have legislators looking into it. DEEP (Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) will be doing a hearing. You’ll have everyone in Hartford attempting to have a hand in this,” Marconi said. “And what we need are solutions…
“And that is the ‘make safe’ protocols, as well as factual, accurate continuous information through the liaison program,” Marconi said.
“God forbid we get another storm in a week, in two weeks, in six weeks —because if it’s handled the way it’s being handled now, we’re in a lot of trouble.”