Blackout-Weary Towns Left in Dark by Utilities
The Republican mayor of this affluent township of about 6,000 has had people shoving her at the post office, screaming at her at the firehouse and banging on her front door.
“They feel like people have forgotten about them,” Desiderio said in a telephone interview yesterday. “All we’d like to see is one or two trucks or a few homes get power back, at least then we’d have hope.”
As utilities zeroed in on the last 8 percent of customers still blacked out 10 days after Sandy struck, frustration was running deep over the slow pace of repairs and poor communication for residents and mayors facing more of the cold and dark.
“I’ve tried calling eight, 10 times a day and no one’s picking up a phone,” said Jon Soldo, a resident of Huntington, New York, of his efforts to contact Long Island Power Authority.
What isn’t being said, according to one former power company official, is that no one really knows when the last tree-damaged line will be repaired.
“Utilities won’t admit it, but in a major storm, it is just very difficult to be able to say, ‘I will be at this address on that day and restore service,’” Matthew Cordaro, a 40-year power industry veteran and former chief operating officer of Long Island Lighting Co., said in a telephone interview.
FirstEnergy Corp. (FE)’s Jersey Central Power & Light, Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (PEG) and Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED), which owns New York’s utility, reduced the storm’s blackout count to 761,000 customers as of 2 p.m. yesterday from as many as 8.5 million. They restored large swaths of service by focusing recovery efforts on the hardest hit coastal areas and densely populated cities.
Total blackouts fell to about 550,000 this morning, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from websites of utilities. Long Island accounted for about 46 percent of that total and about 31 percent were in New Jersey.
For Con Edison, “the vast majority” of customers will have power back by Nov. 11, leaving a few in the dark next week, said Michael Clendenin, a spokesman.
“We’re down to a small number of outages and it’s a longer process to restore one or two or five people,” he said. “In the beginning it was a large-scale offensive, now you are in hand-to-hand combat.”
New Jersey power losses are also likely to run through Nov. 11, Governor Chris Christie said yesterday.
“With the exception of a few outliers in some very difficult areas like the barrier island towns, especially between Point Pleasant Beach to Seaside Heights, most people will have power by Saturday,” Christie told reporters yesterday.
Long Island Power Authority, based in Uniondale, New York, still had 207,000 customers without power today, about 54 percent in Nassau County, according to its website. Con Edison reported that 37,400 customers were still blacked out, 29 percent in Queens.
Mayors and residents of smaller towns, many of them wealthy enclaves, said they’ve been left in the dark about when crews will repair tree damage and downed power lines. Warren Township Mayor Carolann Garafola said yesterday half of the the 6,000 homes and businesses in her New Jersey community still don’t have power based on a police tally of darkened streets.
About 59 percent of Tewksbury, or 1,585 customers, was blacked out this morning, according to Jersey Central’s website. Desiderio, Tewksbury’s mayor, said she’s been given a succession of dates for the return of power to her town.
“The bottom line is, I don’t really know when we’re going to get power back,” she said.
FirstEnergy’s Jersey Central utility expects to spend more than $500 million to restore power to 2.3 million customers affected by the storm. Almost all of its 1.1 million customers in New Jersey lost power, Anthony Alexander, chairman and chief executive officer of Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy, told analysts during a conference call yesterday.
“They got hit disproportionately hard,” Governor Christie, a Republican, said of Jersey Central. “And they have most of the New Jersey coastline. So they drew the short straw on this one just from a logistics perspective.”
Jersey Central estimates 149,000 customers affected by Sandy will have power by the end of this weekend. About 120,000 customers who lost power after a second storm moved through the state, dropping as much as 12 inches of wet, heavy snow on Nov. 7, would be restored throughout “next week,” according to a company statement.
Based on restoration estimates posted yesterday on the company’s website, about 47,800 customers will still lack power by Nov. 11. Ron Morano, a spokesman for Jersey Central, said he couldn’t verify that number and that the restoration times posted on the utility’s website were “estimates, which can and do change.”
Jersey Central has dispatched area managers to address questions and concerns with local officials and is hosting a daily conference call with mayors, Morano said.
That communication effort hasn’t satisfied some local officials. Desiderio said she has put herself in the queue to ask a question on the call each day, but hasn’t been successful. Her deputy mayor did manage to ask yesterday when the town could expect power back. Utility officials didn’t have an answer, she said.
Soldo, a Long Island computer consultant, has been turned into an activist by the 10-day blackout that has left his wife and three-month-old child in a house chilled to 46 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 degrees Celsius).
He drafted a petition on the website SignOn.org, calling on New York lawmakers to hold Long Island Power Authority accountable for its storm planning. More than 3,500 people had signed the petition yesterday, less than a day after it was posted.
Long Island Power Authority’s clean-up efforts were delayed by the second storm, which knocked out power to another 123,000 customers, said Elizabeth Flagler, a spokeswoman for the municipal power provider.
Before that, the utility was on track to get 90 percent of customers restored. Sandy and the second storm damaged 1,230 miles (2,000 kilometers) of wire, she said. All customers will have power by the end of next week. Flagler said.
After spending five days without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene last year, Soldo has lost patience with the utility’s explanations.
“The No. 1 priority right now is to get everyone power, get everyone heat,” Soldo said in a telephone interview. “Once this is resolved and people are back to normalcy, they have to do better.”
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