New Castle, Con Ed Review Storm Response in Face-to-Face Meeting

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The New Castle Town Board posed questions and sought answers last week into Con Edison’s problematic response to last March’s storms.

Con Edison representatives last week pledged to New Castle officials that they will be better prepared to handle future severe storms as the utility seeks improvements to its systems following last March’s devastating weather events.

The Town Board sat down with Con Ed during its June 20 work session to spell out an extensive list of questions and concerns while the six company officials in attendance explained what is being done to avoid a repeat of the widespread breakdowns that resulted after the Mar. 2 nor’easter and Mar. 7 snowstorm.

Jane Skolnick, Con Edison’s director of regional community affairs for Westchester, said the utility is compiling the feedback it has been receiving from municipalities and will return later this year with an extensive updated plan.

“We plan on all this information, we’ve started to accumulate it and to gather it and to bring everybody back in the fall in a meeting to address what to do,” Skolnick said.

One of the key snafus that occurred during and following the March storms, Skolnick said, was a glitch in Con Edison’s technology system where large volumes of information, such as damage assessment, were being funneled. As a result, the outage map was dispensing wrong information and it caused thousands of customers to be informed that their power had been restored when it hadn’t while others were notified of estimated restoration times when they had electricity.

It also forced Con Edison’s predictive platform that outlines the likelihood of neighboring to be inoperative.

She said the utility has been working with technology experts to make sure a breakdown of that system doesn’t occur again.

“Unfortunately, when people were getting these messages, they’re frustrated to begin with, they’ve been without power, so that just elevated that whole frustration for every customer,” Skolnick said. “When it happens in an event like that it’s different.”

Skolnick and Con Edison General Manager Joseph Somma said the severity of the storms and volume of outages made the back-to-back events the second worst event behind Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Somma said at one point there were about 1,800 wires down and 682 roads closed in Westchester, making restoration an arduous process.

The storms were so severe that about 70 percent of the toppled trees that brought down lines had been deemed healthy trees, many of outside the utility’s right of way, Skolnick said.

However, Town Board members pointed out that there were plenty of other issues that needed to be addressed aside from technology. Councilman Jeremy Saland and Councilwoman Ivy Pool, the board’s liaison to the town’s Emergency Preparedness Committee, quizzed Con Edison’s representatives on its criteria to call for mutual aid.

There was also confusion because town officials weren’t being told why a municipality with fewer customer outages had more crews within its borders than New Castle.

Skolnick said critical facilities and infrastructure, such as hospitals, nursing homes and water treatment plants, are priorities. Generally, if large clusters of residents can be restored in one area, those will be done first.

Saland said the storms pointed to “a much more colossal failure on the part of Con Edison.” When residents had trouble getting in contact with the utility, many turned to town officials for answers and there were few to be had, he said.

“We need to partner with Con Edison but that doesn’t mean they get a pass or should be treated with kids’ gloves when they fail the people they serve,” Saland said. “We would be derelict of our responsibility to New Castle residents if we didn’t demand answers to our questions. Simply, we need to best protect the community going forward.”

Although the storm was predicted, its severity and impact were not, Skolnick said. Because of that, there were widespread outages from the mid-Atlantic into New England, which made for greater demand for mutual aid.

Skolnick said smart meters, which will automatically tell Con Edison which customers are experiencing an outage, will be installed throughout the county by the end of 2019. About 10 percent of New Castle currently has them installed.

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