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Austerity Has its Price - Part Two

What have we learned?

Almost exactly two months ago my Patch column . Among other things, I confirmed what everyone already knew. 

Connecticut Light and Power was badly unprepared for the outages that resulted. But they weren’t alone. There was plenty of blame to go around. For example AT&T phone and Uverse service was from reports I received quite slow to respond.

On the other side, there were good things to say about our experiences with Irene. The efforts of our First Selectman, Newtown Patch and the entire Newtown community were nothing short of extraordinary. 

We received numerous updates as to what was going on, where people could seek shelter and other services available to those needing them, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers and of course no end of volunteerism.

So, after two months has anything changed for better or worse?

We all know the answer to that: Yes.

For starters Newtown Patch and the First Selectman Pat Llodra have proven to be formidable forces — pretty much working in tandem. Numerous updates and helpful information coupled with Ms Llodra’s efforts to light a fire under CL&P and generally stay on top of the situation have proven to be extremely helpful and effective. 

Also, in my travels around town I observed more town highway crews at work, many more private tree companies and more AT&T trucks scattered about. In fact, not only were there more of them but despite the complaints from the ever-present malcontents among us, they were there sooner as well. 

On the other side, there were some things that haven’t changed at all. 

One is somewhat understandable. That is the complete absence of information from Charter Communications regarding their status. I know there’s nothing the cable company can do until CL&P has done its work, but how about an occasional status report? 

Maybe phone, TV and internet service is small potatoes compared to electricity but some people actually rely on one or two of those things to do their business. Plus, where were they once power had been restored? Not in my neighborhood.

Good thing for cell towers – that’s all I can say. And Charter wonders why they’re bleeding customers?

And now the best for last — CL&P

They definitely need to do some housekeeping. And I’m not talking about repairing downed power lines. I’m talking about cleaning up some dead wood in the front office.

I did a little research and found out a couple of interesting things. 

The Public Utility Regulatory Authority has a convenient little loophole in its law requiring the disclosure of executive compensation. They only have to report on CL&P’s parent company — not CL&P itself. Northeast Utility Chairman Charles Shivery’s last reported compensation is in excess of $8 million dollars!

However, the compensation of CL&P president Jeff Butler who, at a recent press conference looked about as comfortable as a mouse at a cat convention, is not available to the public. What do you want to bet it’s in seven figures?

I also learned that Connecticut residents pay more for electricity than anyone else in the nation. Given that sad fact, wouldn’t it be logical to expect the best service in the nation?

There’s simply no excuse. They know, or at least should know, what happens when for at least a week you’re being warned about a heavy, wet snow with trees in partial to full foliage that are already in a weakened state!

You don’t need to have a doctorate in meteorology to figure it out.

It’s simply not acceptable. But don’t expect the State of Connecticut Public Utility Regulatory Authority to straighten it out for us.

I’ve had to deal with them on previous occasions and I’ve come to the conclusion that the PURA is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

It’s almost as though it thinks its purpose is to look out for the cable companies and utilities — not the tax payer.

Will Connecticut’s ? Who knows? One can only hope.

In the meantime it’s up to us as a town—government, media and citizens--to be there for each other.  In that regard we can stand tall. 

Thank you Mrs. Llodra.  Thank you town employees.  Thank you Newtown Patch.  Thank you scores of volunteers.  Thank you family, friends, neighbors and strangers.  Until the next one!

Marc Michaud November 06, 2011 at 02:50 PM
I’ve been holding off posting a comment here to avoid turning it into a frustration filled rant and beg everyone’s forgiveness for posting at such length. If we’re looking to play the finger pointing blame game then we’re missing an opportunity to effect constructive change to an apparently out of control situation. Our region has experienced essentially uncontrolled, poorly regulated housing development for the past 30 years or so. In fact, I dare say that real estate development has been the only significant industry in Newtown for years. Yes, I know we have other businesses in this town but over the years they’ve become more and more marginalized. Let’s face the fact that we’ve allowed ourselves to outgrow our infrastructure to a point where it has become a hazard to our community and the people in it.
Marc Michaud November 06, 2011 at 02:52 PM
So how do we learn from the crisis at hand? I believe we should call for, even demand, an in depth, detailed, hour by hour, analysis of exactly how it all transpired from the time each storm was first predicted to the moment when the last resident had safe access, power and communications restored. I recognize the size and scope of the task I’m proposing and would like to offer my time as a volunteer to help in its implementation. Every component of our response needs to be examined and fit into its’ place in the chain of events. When was information made available and to whom? What decisions were made and when? Who had had the authority to make those decisions, and how did they verify that their instructions were carried out in a timely manner? How did the management teams of the different groups coordinate their actions? We have our state and local governments with their various resources, working with CL&P, AT&T, and Charter Communications, who in turn call in outside assistance of their own. It is evident that despite the near heroic efforts of most of the individual responders, they are trying to implement a crisis plan (or lack thereof) that is deeply inadequate to the needs of our community. We need to take the results of this analysis and turn it into a comprehensive Civil Preparedness Plan and a Crisis Management Team who has the legal authority to carry out effective management of the plan during emergencies like this.
Sue Conrod November 06, 2011 at 03:26 PM
We've outgrown the infrastructure and at the same time we kept cutting the Town Budget. It's a great idea that we do our own tree clearing, but when it comes to being close to the power lines, you have to bring in people that work for the power company. I had a note in my mailbox last week from a company working for the power company asking for permission to come onto my property and trim back some trees close to the power line. I gladly give my permission, but some people don't want their beautiful tree destroyed. There are a lot of dead trees in neighborhoods that need to come down (Shady Rest, Pootatuck Area). They have neighborhood associations, they need to either get on their neighbors or raise the association fees and get those trees taken down or live with the fact that they loose power every time the wind blows. If neighbors want to get together and get a crew in for a week to work on their trees, (ones on their property), I bet you could get a better deal, but start working together now and get it done. We can't expect our municipality to be able to do everything we want on the budget we keep cutting back on. Or else, we need to take a closer look at why 75% of our budget goes to the school system. $2 million would go a long way to clearing out the trees along the roads in Newtown instead of increasing the school budgets once again.
josh hull November 06, 2011 at 04:42 PM
It is not economically feasible for CL & P or the Town of Newtown to have the stand-by manpower and equipment resources to instantly rectify the havoc of 25-year storms. (Not to mention that many individual homeowners hampered CL &P's proactive tree-trimming program 10 years ago (?) with a not-in-my-backyard response to CL& P's requests for permission. Josh Hull
Sam Mihailoff November 07, 2011 at 02:01 AM
35 trucks of a private firm out-of-state stayed put in Wisconsin because CL&P had not paid the firm for the caravan of help during Irene...this is why Massachusrtts had feet on the ground while CT did not

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