Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz met with West Hartford officials in the Emergency Operations Center Thursday and got a first-hand look at some of the storm damage.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford officials had a chance to tell the governor and lieutenant governor how things are going as the town recovers from Tropical Storm Isaias, and not surprisingly the message was that restoration work is taking much too long to really get going.
There was just one dedicated crew in West Hartford overnight Wednesday that worked directly with a Public Works crew, but that work involved clearing trees that were entangled with wires and completely blocking roads.
“We have 30,000 customers. We have not moved the needle, governor,” Town Manager Matt Hart said, noting that more than half the town was still without power at noon, nearly 48 hours after Tropical Storm Isaias hit the state.
While there has not been substantial progress in restoration, Hart said, “The utility has been focused on reopening roads, and we needed their assistance.”
The outage is widespread, in all parts of West Hartford.
Inside the Emergency Operations Center, Police Chief Vernon Riddick said the dispatch center had fielded hundreds of calls, but there was only one semi-serious injury, a broken ankle.
As of Thursday afternoon, about 24 streets were still partially blocked, Riddick said. Immediately after the storm 90 streets were impacted with downed trees, limbs, or wires, and another 22 completely blocked. Roads that were inaccessible to emergency crews have now been reopened, however.
“Today they’re actually beginning restoration of power,” Hart said. On Thursday, Eversource crews were focused on circuit 4A along New Britain Avenue, from the Hartford line to the Newington line, where businesses, residents, and traffic signals remained dark.
Hart and Fire Chief Greg Priest said that David Noble, the liaison assigned to West Hartford, has been cooperative and communicative, but what’s needed is getting the crews on the ground.
Hart said he understands that the pandemic makes things more complicated, and is thankful that we have had good weather for the past few days, but at this point “Eversource really needs to up their game” in terms of restoration.
Hart said the town has been in touch with all of the elderly and critical care facilities, to ensure they have power or a back-up supply.
“We maintain a list of our most vulnerable residents and we’ve been tracking them, providing them with shelter or food,” Hart said.
Police and fire department members have done wellness checks on residents who are on the list as well, a list that Fire Chief Greg Priest said was updated as part of the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor said that Eversource had 1,000 crews working in Connecticut as of Wednesday, and were supposed to double that by Thursday. “Show me,” he said.
Hart said he is hopeful that “very good progress” will be made over the next several days,” but at a late afternoon press conference, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said state officials are still awaiting an estimate from Eversource for when the majority of the utility’s customers will have power restores.
“There’s a concern about whether or not Eversource properly pre-positioned their resources,” Dykes said. That will be assessed as part of an investigation by PURA, which regulates the utilities.
“My philosophy has always been plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Lamont told reporters. “I don’t think Eversource planned for the worst.”
The good news is that all of the state’s hospitals are on the grid as of now, Lamont said, but one-third of nursing homes are operating on generators, which have a limited capacity.
State Sen. Derek Slap (D-West Hartford) said he has heard from many residents who are very frustrated. “West Hartford is the third highest community with outages, with one crew. That’s not acceptable.”
Slap said that he, like many residents, had to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of food due to the length of time the power has been out.
Throughout COVID, “we’ve been good soldiers,” Slap said. “This is just adding insult to injury.”
“I want to reiterate, we’ve got to think about safety,” State Rep. Tammy Exum said, and urged residents to consider to be cautious regarding downed wires and trees.
The late response is a major problem, Exum said. “This is like a redo of 2011 – a warm version.”
“We feel the urgency,” Lamont said. “I’d like to think the utilities feel the urgency.” The doubling of the response is due to crews being brought in from other New England states as well as from Illinois and other states.
Lamont and Bysiewicz also took a brief tour of West Hartford, stopping to see damage at 155 Whitman Ave. where a large tree remained leaning against power lines and blocking the roadway.
They chatted with residents, who expressed frustration with the restoration process, but thankful to state officials for pushing the utility companies and for how the state has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are so grateful to the governor,” resident Berdie D’Andrea, walking by with her dog, Biscuit, said.
Whitman Road resident Dave Lynch, who was raking up debris on his lawn, joked that at least it was a good chance to clean out the refrigerator.
Seeing residents get close to the tree and wires across Whitman made Priest nervous. He cautioned that even though they don’t think the wires are live, “we don’t know that for sure.”
In addition to Eversource crews that are working on the New Britain Avenue circuit, there are two tree crews and a line crew working on Waterside Lane.
The tree blocking Farmington Avenue at Garfield Road was removed by mid-day Thursday.
“We are waiting to see if Eversource will put crews on overnight, to see if people arriving have not timed out,” Priest said late Thursday afternoon.
“They have shifted to restoration,” said Priest.
In a news release issued Thursday, Eversource said additional crews from Canada and other states will be arriving within the next 24 hours, and noted that 332,000 customers have had power restored already, but more than 500,000 remained in the dark.
“We understand our customers’ frustration and know it is an especially challenging time to be without power given the ongoing pandemic and hot summer weather. Our entire Eversource team is dedicated to this effort and is working with an extreme sense of urgency to get all of our customers the power they need,” Eversource President of Regional Electric Operations Craig Hallstrom said in a statement. “The impact from this storm and its widespread damage can’t be overstated. We’ve made good progress repairing incredible damage across our service territory. We have hundreds of crews spread out across the state addressing more than 10,000 damage locations and working to rebuild the electric system.”
Issues related to Eversource’s outage reporting system have been resolved and the energy company encourages customers to report any outage online at www.eversource.com, or by calling 800-286-2000. Customers who signed up for the company’s two-way texting feature can send a text to report an outage and receive outage updates as they happen.
Debris removal in West Hartford
Director of Public Works John Phillips said earlier Thursday that he had been working on a plan for pick-up of storm debris, and in an Everbridge message to residents Mayor Shari Cantor confirmed that there will be a town-wide collection next week.
Public Works will make one sweep through the town to collect storm debris that has been placed at the curb.
“Simply pile debris neatly at the curb and we will take it from there,” Cantor said in her message. “You do not have to tie debris in bundles or place in bags. We ask that you take advantage of the weekend and have everything ready for pickup.”
While yard waste pick-up will continue this week as normally scheduled, Phillips told We-Ha.com that the regular service will only apply to material in brown barrels or biodegradable bags, not piles of sticks or other materials at the curb, even if they are tied and properly presented.
Those who were not able to have trash or recycling pick-up this week because of a blocked road can call Paine’s at 860-844-3000 to be put on a list for pick-up once the road has reopened.
In the meantime, the town’s Yard Waste & Recycling Center is open for disposal, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Saturday 8 a.m-1 p.m. A yearly permit is required.
Message from Mayor Shari Cantor
“I want to leave you with two recommendations,” Cantor said at the end of her Everbridge message.
“First, our public safety responders have observed children and adults in several neighborhoods being complacent by being near wires that were either hanging from above or on the ground. This is not safe. Treat every wire as if it were live,” she said.
“Lastly, if you have been without power, food in your refrigerator may no longer be safe to consume. Discard refrigerated food such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers after four hours without power. Never taste food to determine if it safe.
“When in Doubt, Throw it Out!”
A temporary food waste drop-off facility will open Friday at 8 a.m. at the Norfeldt Little League field at the corner of Boulevard and Trout Brook Drive, Cantor announced.
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