Cleanup, power restoration a long process after Irene

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Sep. 6, 2011
RJ, 11, is dwarfed by the pile of brush at Griswold's transfer station Sept. 2. The station was open solely for the disposal of brush in the wake of tropical storm Irene. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
RJ, 11, is dwarfed by the pile of brush at Griswold's transfer station Sept. 2. The station was open solely for the disposal of brush in the wake of tropical storm Irene. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Nicole and Michael Light spent their honeymoon raking brush at the Jewett City home, thanks to tropical storm Irene. The couple was married at Ocean Beach in New London on Aug. 27, and a few hours later, Irene roared into New England, leaving havoc in her wake.
“We woke up and the power was out at the hotel. The generator was out, too,” said Michael. “I told [Nicole], ‘We’re going home.’”

What they found at home was not quite a disaster, but certainly a mess. Although their three big oak trees had weathered the storm, there was plenty of debris to clean up.

Their neighbors weren’t so lucky. “One neighbor had a hickory tree that fell into another neighbor’s pool,” said Nicole. “We got hardly anything.”

The Lights were shoveling brush out of their pickup truck at the Griswold transfer station on Voluntown Road on Sept. 2. The transfer station, slated to be closed for Labor Day weekend, opened its gates anyway on Friday for no charge, but was accepting only brush from town residents.

The return to normal was a prolonged process for many local residents, made more complicated when the lights went out unexpectedly – again – on Saturday evening around 7:15, nearly a full week after Irene’s arrival.

“It was a fault in the system. That’s basically what put us all down,” said Griswold First Selectman Philip Anthony. He said that CL&P officials told him the feeder grid from Tunnel Hill in Danielson went out, taking with it power from Plainfield to Lisbon.

The re-loss of power after a frustrating week of spotty electricity throughout town was “shocking” to some residents, Anthony said. “Some residents had just that day received their power. I was inundated with calls.” The lights remained out Saturday until nearly midnight.

Anthony said on Monday that Griswold was to be 100-percent restored to power after the remaining 23 homes were put back on the grid.

While Jewett City, which has its own utility company, was back up and running the day after the storm, the last two homes in Sprague weren’t back on line for more than a week. The lights went back on for those two on Monday, Sept. 5.

Sprague First Selectman Catherine Osten said that the town hovered at 70 percent power during most of the week after the storm because residents of the Baltic section never lost power. Many in the outskirts, however, stayed in the dark for days. A problem with the town’s water filtration plant was being addressed Tuesday, she said.

“The situation was a difficult situation for everybody,” said Osten. “We still have a lot of work to do. There’s at least two weeks of serious clean-up.” Debris management and removal of damaged trees will be top priorities, she said.

Pockets of Voluntown remained without power for most of last week, as well, though power was restored rather quickly to the Route 138 corridor. First Selectman Ronald Millovitsch said that, even though Connecticut Light & Power officials told him Monday that the town was “100 percent” with power, he’d heard otherwise from residents. “They were still working on Brown Road,” he said.

Anthony said that the storm and its wake should prompt CL&P to take a hard look at its ability to deal with another such emergency. “They need to review their procedures. They need to review their full infrastructure. They need to review their preparedness,” he said. “Learn from your mistakes.”

Anthony credited his decision to ask the Department of Environmental Protection to lower the levels of local ponds with sparing the region’s residents from flooding during the tropical storm. That decision, he said, was made in view of last spring’s disastrous flooding after prolonged heavy rain.

“Any company would have had a difficult time with such a major statewide event,” Anthony said. But, he added, the power company “basically knew it was coming.”

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