As power restoration in Westchester’s hardest hit areas neared its conclusion Tuesday night, local and county officials are demanding answers from utilities on what went wrong while appealing to the state to make much-needed changes.
A week after Tropical Storm Isaias blasted the area causing massive power and telecommunications outages, Con Edison reported its outages in Westchester were down to 2,850 at about 6 p.m. Two of the most impacted towns, New Castle and North Castle, saw its outages drop to 48 and about 200, respectively, late Tuesday.
The remaining outages involve extensive damage and complicated restorations for individual customers, Con Edison said in a statement put out Tuesday evening. There had been about 120,000 customers in Westchester left without power after the storm.
Local and county representatives repeatedly pointed to Con Edison’s lack of transparency, failure to provide accurate information and its refusal to stage mutual aid crews before the storm when the forecast was severe.
“They certainly do not always respond to our requests for data, for transparency, for information about their working in our community, for information on why restoration is taking longer than it should,” New Castle Supervisor Ivy Pool said. “We do not have visibility into their operations; we believe that we should. We believe that we should be able to provide residents of this community with an estimated time of restoration.”
By Tuesday evening interruption of internet service was proving to be the larger problem, at least in New Castle, where about 960 households who use Optimum did not have service. That represented about 36 percent of the town’s customers from that provider, said Councilwoman Lauren Levin.
There was no estimated time provided by Altice, which provides Optimum service, for when there will be full restoration.
Earlier in the day, County Executive George Latimer said that Altice had about 10,300 customers without internet throughout Westchester.
Over the next 30 to 60 days, his administration and the Board of Legislators will be reviewing the United Westchester report that was created in 2018 following the two storms in March of that year, Latimer said. Con Edison’s performance following Isaias will be reviewed, including whether the recommendations and metrics that were established in 2018 were followed.
Most officials pointed to the inadequate staffing as one of the biggest difficulties Con Edison faces in an emergency situation.
“You have cost-cut for your economic reasons but by cost-cutting, reducing workforce, reducing benefits, pensions, whatever else goes with that, you’ve reduced the ability to respond to this crisis, however infrequently they may be. There has to be a credible response to them and there can’t be a seven-day waiting period,” Latimer said.
The state legislature may begin hearings on the utilities’ performance as soon as next week, he said.
New Castle Councilman Jeremy Saland said Con Edison’s horrendous response was highlighted late Monday afternoon when a new pole that was installed on Paulding Drive in Chappaqua was placed in hole in the ground that was too shallow. After 5 p.m. it fell and toppled down a hill onto a neighboring property.
The utility also stopped providing estimated restoration times once 95 percent of customers were back in service countywide. He fired off an e-mail that scolded Con Edison for what he characterized as incompetence.
“This is shameful and gross negligence all around,” Saland said. “I promise you that Con Edison will regret their absolute ineptness from their executives to their management and rue the day they demonstrated to this municipality and others that you simply don’t care.”
In North Castle, even as Con Edison was coming close to restoring power to all customers, Supervisor Michael Schiliro said Tuesday afternoon he was unable to receive an accurate number as to how many outages remained. He was told either 186 or 272 customers remained out of service.
On the daily conference call with utility representatives and municipal officials, Schiliro said he asked for Con Edison what he and his colleagues around the county should tell their residents. Their response was that Con Edison was working to restore all customers by 11 p.m.
“It shouldn’t be this way, but it is; it’s unacceptable and I get the anger,” Schiliro said. “We are doing everything in our power to expedite restoration, but we cannot do the work ourselves.”