Frustration mounted during storm cleanup efforts

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Mon., Nov. 7, 2011
Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy talks to reporters next to a downed tree over power lines in the middle of Irene Drive. Photos by Steve Smith.
Vernon Mayor Jason McCoy talks to reporters next to a downed tree over power lines in the middle of Irene Drive. Photos by Steve Smith.

Typifying the problems felt by other towns in the aftermath of the Oct. 29 winter storm, Vernon officials were frustrated – especially with the help and communication they were getting from Connecticut Light & Power. Emergency Management Director Michael Purcaro said Thursday that CL&P liaison Lindsey Parke guaranteed power would be returned to 99 percent of Vernon by midnight on Sunday, Nov. 6. A tour of some of Vernon’s hardest-hit residential areas made that estimate seem beyond optimistic.

On Thursday afternoon – five days after the storm— the ReminderNews toured streets off of Merline Road, including Irene Drive, Deepwood Drive, and Gottier Drive, along with Mayor Jason McCoy and Fire Chief William Call. Several streets were blocked in multiple locations by downed trees — many of which were entangled in wires — and several residents still had to walk to and from their homes, as vehicular access was impossible.

“I can’t get a fire truck in there,” Call said, while looking at one end of Deepwood Drive, where a large tree was blocking the entire road.

“I’m at the end of my rope,” said Suzanne Thrall, an Irene Drive resident, who said that since she had bought a generator after tropical storm Irene, she wasn’t as concerned about power restoration as she was about getting into and out of her home.

Thrall and her husband, Mason, have had her son, Mason, Jr., and his family staying with them. The younger Thralls had a tree break through the roof of their home (which is right across the street) during the storm. They were able to remove the tree and patch the holes, but the house was uninhabitable, and insurance adjusters would not come to the area because the roads were impassable.

Vernon was being asked to prioritize its top three “make safe” areas, not to have power restored, but to have “cut and cleared,” by CL&P crews each day. That amounted to just three locations where trees could be cleared from wires deemed safe, out of the more than 230 locations reported. Simple math tells that the cleanup effort alone, which must be done before power can be restored, would take months, not days.

Thrall said that when she called CL&P, they told her that there was no priority list for residential streets.

The town was also dealing with one of its main water pumping stations, which was running on a generator that was experiencing problems. The same station provides water to hydrants in town, as well as drinking water to homes.

In a call between Purcaro, McCoy and Parke on Thursday afternoon,  Parke was busy trying to ascertain what schools were still out of power, as well as which buildings Vernon used as polling places. McCoy asked for an update on the pumping station problem, as well as another problem with a local sewage pump.

“I’m real nervous about that, because it’s our fire-suppression system, so if there’s a fire...” McCoy told Parke.

“I haven’t had a chance to address that,” Parke said, but added that she was elevating the level of urgency of that situation. She added that the crews in Vernon were focused on the business district along Route 83 and the areas near the local substations.

McCoy said he understood that Parke, like many of the other CL&P liaisons, was being asked to do a job that she wasn’t normally accustomed to doing, but there were still too many gaps in the communication.

“She’s doing the best she can,” he said. “They can’t give you any answers on your questions. We get three priorities per day for cut-and-clear, but we’ve still got people who are trapped in their neighborhoods.” McCoy added that once the locations of downed lines are given to CL&P, the town doesn’t receive confirmation that the information has been received and that the numbers match up.

“I know that they don’t know where all the downed wires are,” McCoy said. “When they energize these things, someone’s going to get electrocuted.”

McCoy said he had town crews, local contractors and volunteers ready to help, but they were not able to do any work until the CL&P crews had gotten to the areas and declared them safe to work on. “We’re just not [able to be] maximizing our resources,” McCoy said. “I’ve got 110 people with chainsaws and heavy equipment like cherry-pickers… but they want to use their tree-cutters. Some of it doesn’t make sense.

Vernon’s Town Council held a special meeting and appropriated $400,000 from the town’s general reserve fund, in order to provide the shelters and emergency services, and do what they can with the cleanup. McCoy added that the town may recoup the monies from grants, but regardless, “this is what citizens expect to be done.”

 


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