The White Plains Examiner

County Legislators Demand Storm Response Answers From Utilities

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Downed power lines all over Westchester County caused widespread power outages during wind and rain storms earlier this month.

The Westchester County Board of Legislators demanded answers Monday from Consolidated Edison and New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG) representatives for the muddled response to the widespread power outages inflicted by dual Nor’easters this month.

Throughout the special three-hour meeting of the entire board, lawmakers skewered the utilities for inadequately preparing for the Mar. 2 wind and rain storm and the Mar. 7 snowstorm. Legislators strongly agreed there were communications breakdowns and misinformation presented to the public that must be rectified.

“We’ve heard from you before that lessons were learned. We heard that after (Superstorm) Sandy that lessons were learned,” Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D-Rye) said. “The unfortunate thing from this experience is that it really throws that into question. Truly, it seems there was a first failure in responsiveness, a failure in accuracy and a failure of dissemination of information. It just seems we’re back exactly where we were with Sandy.”

Con Edison representatives said they prepared a week before the storm but were surprised by the “hurricane-like event” that arrived on Mar. 2. They said restoration procedures were followed once the first storm impacted the electrical system.

“After the storm arrived Friday, that didn’t actually finish until Saturday in terms of the wind, we were still getting outages and you size your mutual aid to the outages you are experiencing,” said Kyle Kimball, Con Edison’s vice president of government relations. “That’s why if you look at the timeline of us requesting mutual aid it begins to ramp up.”

He added the storm was so widespread with 147,000 outages that crews were requested from across the United States.

“This was a practically devastating storm for our electrical system,” Kimball said.

Trish Nilsen, NYSEG’s director of emergency preparedness, said the utility’s personnel followed group emergency plans and staged about 150 line and tree resources in their service areas prior to both storms. NYSEG’s service area in the county, which was hit particularly hard, includes Yorktown, Lewisboro, North Salem, Bedford, Pound Ridge and Somers.

Following the first storm, Nilsen said NYSEG expanded to 1,200 workers, which comprised the utility’s own personnel, local contractors and additional resources; in Brewster there were 72,000 customers impacted. A company review process is underway to analyze the response.

But legislators didn’t appear satisfied with many of the answers they were receiving.

“Listening to completely inconsistent information on how things are going and what the plans are from day to day, I’ll tell you, is beyond infuriating and it tells me there are people who should be in charge of upper management in your company who don’t know what the heck they’re doing,” Legislator MaryJane Shimsky (D-Hastings-on-Hudson) said. “And the fact that we’ve lived through this before is a really serious problem.”

Minority Leader John Testa (R-Peekskill) said that while nobody can control the weather or prevent trees from falling on power lines, residents within his district were trapped at home for days due to downed trees and high voltage wires. He suggested Con Edison work with local municipalities to expedite the restoration process.

Minority Whip Gordon Burrows (R-Yonkers) and Shimsky demanded that more line workers be hired to offset the travel time of the out-of-state utility crews.

“If you need to call mutual aid from 1,500 miles away and they’re not here… for two to three days that compounds the problem,” Burrows said. “If you have experienced line workers living in the area there’s not a need maybe to call all the mutual aid staff. I want to address the immediate problem of staffers that are in the area.”

Legislator Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers), who said his district “was blown out like a bomb,” was concerned that seniors at Heritage Hills in Somers could die without power for extended periods. Legislator David Tubiolo (R-Yonkers) shared similar concerns that the slow pace of restoration put lives at risk.

Jane Solnick, Con Edison’s director of public affairs in Westchester County, said the utility has conducted outreach with senior facilities to provide preventative measures during storms. She agreed to collaborate with municipalities to prepare more effectively in the future.

Following the storms, County Executive George Latimer, who attended Monday’s meeting, called for Con Edison and NYSEG to clean house of its senior managements.

“You’ve lost the public’s trust and that’s a big problem for a utility company to have,” Legislator Catherine Borgia (D-Ossining) told the representatives. “I think this is a wakeup call for all of us on how we communicate with each other.” 

Con Edison to Provide Food and Medicine Reimbursement to Customers

Con Ed has announced that it will reimburse customers who lost power for three consecutive days or more for food and medicines as a result of the two Nor’easters that hit our area.

Customers may receive reimbursements for up to $225 or up to $515 with receipts. Business owners are also eligible for food spoilage reimbursements.

You must file the claim within 30 days of the outages.

E-mail or mail to Con Edison Claims Department, PO Box 801, NY, NY 10276.

View the Con Edison website for more information:

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