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Communication Breakdown: Valley Town Officials Taking Hard Look at CL&P

Utility's estimates of crews, restoration timetables have not been reliable, town representatives say.

Farmington Valley town officials, as well as U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5, voiced their frustration with Connecticut Light & Power’s response to the week-long power outage crisis at an afternoon news conference today.

According to Canton First Selectman Dick Barlow, 52 percent of the residents throughout the valley towns remained without power as of 1:28 p.m. Sunday.  Avon held at 46 percent, Canton at 39 percent, Farmington at 66 percent, Granby at 36 percent, and Simsbury at 53 percent. CL&P’s goal of total restoration for all towns in Connecticut has been pushed to Wednesday before midnight.

Barlow noted that the figures provided to town officials by CL&P have been fluctuating wildly, with the provided explanation from the power company being that the computer reading the circuits could not be counted on to be accurate.

“The one frustration that we have is that we do not have what we feel is accurate information, timely information,” Barlow said.

He continued to say that CL&P’s reported numbers of crews working to restore power have been similarly unreliable. Barlow said that CL&P told him that 35 crews were working in Canton Saturday, while the actual number had been five. Only 11 crews were working in Canton Sunday.

Murphy took the podium to extol the fortitude displayed by the valley towns as well as to announce that there are at least three investigations either underway or being requested to examine what went wrong in the process of restoring power to the Farmington Valley. Confirmed investigations included one by the state of Connecticut, one by the attorney general and one requested by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We are going to need to hear, loud and clear, both the empirical and anecdotal evidence of what went wrong here in the Farmington Valley, and I look forward to being part of that process,” he said.

Murphy said that next steps following complete restoration would be to make sure Farmington Valley taxpayers have been compensated for the incredible expense incurred due to the storm. He said that the attorney general will examine as to whether CL&P has any responsibility to help towns and individuals pay for the cleanup process.

Murphy also said that there is a federal disaster process underway that may lead to federal funds being funneled into Connecticut towns to help pay for shelter operations and other extraordinary emergency response measures. Murphy said that he was working to make sure that every eligible cost would be covered by FEMA’s emergency disaster declaration process.

Avon Town Council Chairman Mark Zacchio addressed the issue of school openings. Avon schools will be closed through Tuesday at the least. Simsbury, Farmington and Granby schools will be closed through at least Monday. Canton schools open again on Monday, following an assessment of roadways conducted Sunday.

Avon Town Manager Brandon Robertson said that shelters will remain open until no longer needed. Shelter locations include Avon High School, the Canton Community Center, Farmington High School, the Granby Senior Center and the First Congregational Church of Simsbury.

Local elections will occur Nov. 8 as planned. Residents are advised to turn to media sources, including your local Patch.com site, for polling locations.

Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman said that Farmington Valley town officials will focus their efforts on next steps and contingency plans for the coming days. Granby Town Manager Bill Smith said that the towns will have to look at regional sheltering going forward and “piggybacking” with other communities to assist each other. Communication efforts between utility
companies and towns will also have to be reinforced in the future.

“I do believe we need to have an oversight review to seriously look at why this has occurred and so it will never happen again, even if we have an emergency that is not nearly as bad as this one,” Smith said.

Farmington Town Council Chairman Mike Clark emphasized this aspect of the crisis, noting the problems caused across towns by CL&P’s delayed responses.

“We need accurate information, from the power companies, from … AT&T and Comcast as well, so that we can pass that information on to our constituents,” he said.

Clark also noted potential issues with the “Scotch tape” approach CL&P took to some repairs, with workarounds used by the company in Farmington actually causing a rise in power outages over the weekend.

“What we have in place today, the response of CLP [sic], we all feel is what we should have had in place on Monday,” he said.

jeff November 07, 2011 at 01:44 PM
This is absolutely ridiculous. Had I had a CHOICE to vote for my power company, CL&P would be my last choice. To think about having school in times when residents are heating up snow in order to flush toilets is absolutely outrageous. I would much rather prefer those resources be dedicated to the elderly and those needing assistance SURVIVING. As for Cl&P i would have much more consideration, had they put the residents above their bottom line for this storm. Profiting off of natural disaster is shameful
Brian Russ November 07, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Farmington residents need to VOTE tomorrow and remember who the current officials are and NOT vote for them. They responded late and missed the mark. Shifting blame to CL&P does not excuse their late response to the situation or their lack of preparedness. They should have learned some lessons from the Irene event and what other Towns went through.
mary November 07, 2011 at 02:47 PM
I would like to thank the Canton Patch for it's coverage since this latest storm began. We live in Florida, but have family and own property in Canton. The news from other sources has been minimal. I do think what would be an interesting story is how townspeople banded together to help one another, rather than sit back and wait for government take care of them.
John Fitts November 07, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Thanks Mary. I am working on some volunteer stories but that is a great idea. I know in some neighborhoods people with generators opened their doors. I will try to track down some of those folks this week. And if anyone wants to share a story, please feel free to e-mail me at john.fitts@patch.com
Joey November 07, 2011 at 07:27 PM
From very recent experience with CL&P (as well as past experiences) I can attest to the fact that, even on a 'good' day, CL&P is uncommunicative. About 2 weeks ago we lost power in my neighborhood. As I was heading out at the time, I assumed it would be back in short time. This was at 10:30 am. I returned home about 3:30 and still no power. So I called CL&P and was told they were aware of it and that a crew had been dispatched 5 minutes ago. When I asked why it took 5 hours to respond, the customer service rep told me she didn't know, only that the crew had just been dispatched. I left, with the intent to see where the problem might lie. I pass some neighbors out in their yard and stopped and asked if they were out of power. The woman told me they were and had been since about 10:30am. She also told me that she had called at the time the power went out and was told they would have power restored within 3 hours. This conversation was 5 hours after the outage. Interestingly I went no more than a 1/4 down the road and there was a CL&P truck coming into the area. I turned around and went home, and power was on! Was it a breaker tripped on a transformer? It only took them a few minutes to restore power, but 5 hours to get around to doing it. I doubt their approach to power restoration is significantly different, be it minor or major. They get around to it when they get around to it. But then, when you're the "We Say So" Electric company, you can do whatever you like.

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