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New Council Tackles Storm Response and Cleanup

Town Manager Steve Werbner asks council for authorization to investigate options as to what recourse they may have with Connecticut Light and Power's response to the unprecedented storm.

Less than 24 hours after election results were in and moments after voting in  members Jack Scavone as Chair and Rick Field as Vice Chair, the new council hit the floor running with a special meeting Wednesday evening to address Connecticut Light and Power's response to the unprecedented nor'easter of October 29.

The council also discussed how the town might handle the monumental task of debris removal from town streets and rights-of-way.

Town Manager Steve Werbner said he has many concerns with the utility company's response, which is being discussed also at the state level, to make sure there is not a repeat performance. He said there are real concerns about the allocation of CL&P's resources to Tolland, and he plans on testifying on the matter next Tuesday as part of a municipal delegation.

Werbner asked the council to authorize him to investigate both as an indiviudal town and as part of a larger conference of towns what recourse they might have to recoup from CL&P some of the costs expended to deal with the storm cleanup.

While the council voted to approve the authorization, it was not a unanimous decision. Councilman Sam Belsito opposed the authorization calling into question whether any utility could have handled a problem of such magnitude.

However, Councilman Josh Freeman said the authorization they were granting only allows Werbner to investigate the matter but does not authorize him to initiate legal proceedings or other such matters. Rather, he said, Werbner would need to present his findings to the council after which they would have the opportunity to discuss it further.

Councilman Jan Rubino said residents made it very clear at the Emergency Operations Center that they were displeased with CL&P's response.

"We owe it to our citizens to provide them an answer," Rubino said.

Of more urgent concern was how the town would handle the cleanup of brush and other debris in the storm's aftermath.

Werbner said the town had looked into the possibility of providing curbside collection of brush, but with such a small window of time to complete the work before the snow flies, it would simply not be possible. He added that attempting to do the work during the winter season would be labor intensive.

"Contracting out the work would be extremely expensive," Werbner added, saying that the costs for that collection process would be estimated at $600,000 for the town.

For now, Werbner said the town is providing the Cross Farms Recreation Area as a drop-off location for brush, and it is also suspending the outside burning restrictions for brush. He said the town will pick up debris in the public right of ways, but that leaving brush roadside for pickup would result in serious sight line issues as well as debris ending up falling into the road.

Werbner added that State Senator Bryan Hurlburt is requesting that the governor provide aid to municipalities for collection programs.

Dissatisfied with Werbner's recommendations, Belsito said he wanted to see Public Works and Parks and Recreation employees out in town trucks picking up all the brush.

"That's their job," said Belsito. "We don't all have pick ups and dump trucks so we have to depend on the town. I don't care if it takes five or six months or if it goes into next year, they owe it to the people to do it," he said.

However, Werbner said it would not be possible to divert all the Public Works employees from their other work, and even if they could, the town simply does not have the equipment to handle the job on a townwide basis.

Public Works Director Clem Langlois added that there are very real costs to the cleanup. He said they presently have two street crews cutting hanging limbs which is required by state law and the cost to the town is expected to run $200 an hour for the next 1-1/2 months. Langlois said the council needs to consider the costs of fuel, man hours and burn out of their employees.

"I feel this would put a burden on the town. It's not good," Langlois said.

Belsito said there are over 100 boy scouts in town eager to earn badges, and the town would be well served to call upon them to volunteer their services to clean up people's yards. He was particularly concerned about seniors and disabled residents who cannot physically do the work.

After some discussion the council agreed that a coordinated effort organized by the town between volunteer groups could make a good impact on the cleanup process.

"This town historically has pulled together. That's what makes this town so good," said Field, endorsing a volunteer effort.

Freeman concurred, suggesting the town make a list of those residents in need of volunteer cleanup help and putting seniors and disabled residents at the highest priority.

The Council discussed advertising the volunteer effort as a two-day program during the four-day Thanksgiving Day weekend.

Werbner advised Belsito to get a target date with the boy scouts and the town will put things into motion.

 

Betty-Lou Griffin November 10, 2011 at 05:10 PM
Is anyone else confused about what just happened here? The voting tally for PZC and ZBA has drastically changed even though the winners have not. For example, in the ZBA, 2 year term race the numbers went from an 8 point victory for Robert B. Green to a 427 point victory. This represents a change of 419 votes, which is over 18% of the total votes cast in that race. Although I have not calculated the results for other races, large changes are also seen in other races. How do we account for these discrepancies? This raises two large questions. First, are we certain now that this tally is accurate, or do we still need a recount? And how is such a large error explained? Second, do we need to check the accuracy of Town Council and Board of Education results? Changes of that magnitude in those races could affect election results! I, for one, would like to see an official response to these questions, and a further explanation of how this happened.
Suzy DeYoung November 11, 2011 at 03:13 AM
Several Connecticut Residents have expressed interest in starting a petition to our state and federal representatives regarding CL&P's failures. If interested, please join the campaign by adding your signature to the petition and by passing it along to others as well. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/actionagainstconnlightandpower/
MaryAnn November 12, 2011 at 06:52 PM
After some discussion the council agreed that a coordinated effort organized by the town between volunteer groups could make a good impact on the cleanup process. Has anyone considered the liability issues related to 100 boy scouts involved in a town sponsored project, on roads and private property, possibly using saws and power equipment? Maybe the BSA troops should be coordinating the volunteer efforts under their charter and not the town.
Josh Freeman November 12, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Hi MaryAnn, It was discussed, and supervision of any group including youth (Boy Scouts or other) would be coordinated by the group itself. The town's role is to link residents in need to volunteers willing to help. I think clearing brush along roads will be limited (if any) to quiet roadways as the focus is on residents needing help and who give permission for volunteers to clear brush from their property. But, your concern is valid, it has been discussed in brief, but I will bring it up again with the Town Manager and make sure it is not a huge problem for the town to be involved in the coordination of this volunteer day. Thanks, Josh

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