Supervisors of Westchester towns hard hit by Tropical Storm Isaias last Tuesday leveled searing criticism against Con Edison as 9,700 households in the county were still without power early Monday evening.
The towns of New Castle and North Castle were among the most severely impacted with significant problems also felt in Cortlandt and elsewhere in the northern part of the county. But serious outages were also still reported in Yonkers, New Rochelle and Mamaroneck on Saturday.
Con Edison, which initially stated that nearly all customers would have power restored by Sunday night, extended that to Monday at 11 p.m. for Westchester residents with some service outages lingering into Tuesday, Con Edison President Tim Cawley said Saturday.
North Castle Supervisor Michael Schiliro, who still had 1,180 customers without power Monday afternoon, down from 2,596 on Saturday, accounting for about 23 percent of the town six days after the storm, expressed the frustration felt by many officials throughout the county. Following the devastating back-to-back winter storms in March 2018, hearings were held and promises were made for better communication and restoration service.
But Con Edison’s performance has been just as dismal following this storm, Schiliro said, describing the utility as “dysfunctional.”
“The problem is they can handle the normal day-to-day functioning; they can’t handle outages and they never will be able to handle outages,” he said. “It’ll never happen. We’ve been through this. I’m not going to anymore hearings and testifying and all that. For what?”
There were still 10 roads that were closed in North Castle on Sunday that still needed to be cleared because wires and utility poles were tangled with trees, requiring Con Edison crews to respond, Schiliro said. The problems were not confined to areas of Armonk and Banksville that have been prone to previous outages but in North White Plains as well, complicating the efforts.
In New Castle, more than 1,315 households were still in the dark late Monday afternoon, Supervisor Ivy Pool reported. That was down from 4,022 customers on Thursday.
“It is of deep concern that fewer households were powered up today than the day before,” Pool stated. “We have been promised more crews and mutual aid to assist with cut and clear and restoration. We know that the easy jobs, the proverbial low hanging fruit, have been completed, nevertheless the slow progress is maddening.”
Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi, an outspoken critic of Con Edison over the years, said on Friday that the utility has learned nothing from storms stretching back nearly a decade, including Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the twin 2018 storms.
She said that Con Edison repeatedly waits until after the storm is over to call for out-of-state mutual aid rather than getting some crews in place before the storm. The Public Service Commission (PSC) needs to finally hold the utility accountable, Puglisi said.
“Con Edison needs to be held responsible for their slow responses,” Puglisi said. “One third of our 5,500 homes was without power and four days later the majority of them still have no power. The PSC needs to once again hold public hearings and to take action, including heavy fines and consider breaking up this conglomerate which has a monopoly on electric and gas services.”
Cawley said the 300,000 systemwide outages was second only to Superstorm Sandy in severity, including about 120,000 in Westchester shortly after the storm. During a Saturday briefing, he said Con Edison was doing everything it could to restore service.
He said the high winds didn’t damage the utility’s infrastructure, but it was the large number of trees that took out poles and wires which wreaked havoc on the system.
“The high winds, the 70-mile-per-hour gusts, and 50-plus-mile-an-hour sustained winds really took down trees and limbs and those caused significant damage to our overhead distribution system, the poles, the wires and the transformers,” he said. “This is really significant damage.”
He said all 1,700 Con Edison crew members have been working around the clock along with 1,300 contractors from outside the region and from other states. Cawley did not address the issue of staging extra crews before a storm and sidestepped a question about complaints from local officials.
“We’re just focused on restoration at this point, and that’s consuming and it should be consuming and it has consumed all of our efforts,” Cawley said.
But Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi, who at one point had more than 3,000 households without power, said Con Edison lacks adequate manpower to effectively handle emergency situations, preferring to wait to bring in out-of-state crews to save money.
“I blame upper management,” Fulgenzi said. “They’re obviously looking at the bottom line and they bring in the contractors at the last minute. The question is everybody else needed these contractors also, so we’ll probably get the last of the draw.”
In Greenburgh, The Knolls, an independent senior housing facility went days without power, air conditioning, refrigeration and information from Con Edison about when power will return, said Supervisor Paul Feiner.
“It’s very distressing that Con Ed did not give priority to this important senior facility,” he said.
On Friday, County Executive George Latimer said he would appeal to the state PSC to establish a reserve corps system to have crews in place before a storm. He also blasted Con Edison for having some its personnel try to pass off blame for the substandard response on municipal governments.
“The local government has turned into the de facto place for complaints when no town, no city and no village nor county government has the ability to direct the utility company to take an action,” Latimer said.
Con Edison announced Saturday that customers without power for 48 hours or more since Thursday can fill out a claims form to cover spoiled food, medication or perishable commercial merchandise.