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Officials Unleash Criticism On Eversource For Its Response To Tropical Storm Isaias

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public

Elected officials across Connecticut testified before state regulators Monday that electric utility Eversource repeatedly failed to provide critical updates on power restoration in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias, which knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of customers earlier this year.

This week, the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is gathering evidence and witness testimony about how the state’s two major utilities, Eversource and United Illuminating, responded to Tropical Storm Isaias.

But on Monday, the crosshairs were squarely on the response of Eversource.

Matthew Knickerbocker, first selectman of Bethel, said critical facilities across his town were without electricity for nearly one week after Isaias knocked out power to thousands of customers.

He said one of those outages was at Bethel’s police department, which was running on a generator.

“But we were having a great deal of difficulty obtaining fuel. And the station came within hours of running empty several times during the crisis, before it was finally restored,” Knickerbocker said.

“We were unable to contact our oil supplier,” Knickerbocker said. “Their systems were down. Telephone systems were down. So we were stressing the urgency of getting those facilities back up and running because we were uncertain we’d be able to keep them on generator.”

Cheryl Kimball, an attorney for Eversource, said the outage should have been reported through a separate channel for priority outages at critical facilities.

Knickerbocker said he repeatedly communicated the outage to the community liaison appointed for Bethel by the utility.

In recalling their emergency exchanges with Eversource officials in August, town leaders from Bethel, New Fairfield, Newtown and Ridgefield all expressed variations on a shared frustration: what they saw as the failure of Eversource to adequately apprise town officials and residents of the timing of power restoration.

Eversource officials are expected to testify later this week. A spokesperson for PURA said it’s possible that their testimony may be delayed due to a winter storm that’s expected to hit Connecticut on Wednesday, which may set off a new round of power outages.

In a 115-page event report on Tropical Storm Isaias submitted to PURA in September, Eversource said “we were fully prepared and that the perception that we were not prepared, is inaccurate.”

The utility said it “responded to almost 200 life?threatening downed wire situations within 24 hours of the event, and over 4,000 downed wire events throughout the restoration.”

But Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said when roads were cleared of electrical hazards it was public works officials and local emergency responders -- not Eversource -- who were the first to notify the town about the work.

Marconi said the way Eversource communicated with Ridgefield customers was also lacking.

“There were text messages going out that had total erroneous information to several of our residents, where they were told a truck is on its way -- a line crew is on its way -- you’ll be restored in the next four to six hours. Not only did that never happen, but they never received a correcting text message. This was a common occurrence,” Marconi said.

New Fairfield First Selectman Patricia Del Monaco said Eversource failed to prioritize public safety during the restoration.

“We had numerous blocked roads with only one way in and one way out,” Del Monaco said. “To me, that is a public safety hazard because we are unable to respond with fire equipment, ambulance[s], [and] police. And those were not prioritized.”

Newtown First Selectman Daniel Rosenthal said that four days after a live power line was toppled on a street in his town, a dog was killed because that live wire still wasn’t fixed.

“Unfortunately, the dog came in contact with the line that was still arcing in the ground,” Rosenthal said. “Thankfully not a person, but still tragic to lose the family pet. It killed the dog instantly.”

“Eversource did send a crew on emergency to go and deactivate the line,” Rosenthal said, “but the line had been active since the night of the storm.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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