Jul 26, 2014
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Families Waiting for Wire Removals in Bernardsville, Bernards

Borough completely without power, dozens of homes blocked by downed wires, mayor says. Bernards also has some blocked homes.

Families Waiting for Wire Removals in Bernardsville, Bernards

Bernardsville Borough remained 100 percent without power as of about noon Saturday, and dozens of families were trapped behind trees entangled with power lines and electrical equipment that had not been removed or cleared for removal, by Jersey Central Power & Light, local officials said.

"We are falling through the cracks," Bernardsville Mayor Lee Honecker said at about 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Honecker and others said that all of the borough remained without power at that time. Reports are that power may not be returned for another week, and that Somerset Hills schools will be closed on Monday.

JCP&L spokesman says company is working on wire removals

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said at about 3 p.m. Saturday that that the company is in communication with Bernardsville officials.

"We have been working to restore and repair," he said at that time. "We understand. We are talking to them."

But he added that Hurricane Sandy had been responsible for more damage than ever before in JCP&L's turf.

Morano said the power company does rely on county emergency management offices to help sort out local issues, since the power company has been working on the larger infrastructures.

Morano stressed that it's JCP&L's job to certify that wires can be removed, and those wires should not be touched by others.

Bernards Township too had reported some residents on roads blocked by trees and wires.

Despite being on multiple conference calls with JCP&L, Honecker said he and the police chief, Kevin Valentine, have been shunted between Somerset County and to the Morris County operations headquarters for JCP&L, to which Bernardsville has been assigned.

In the ensuing confusion, Honecker said Bernardsville officials told JCP&L representatives — including the power company's president — that 40 to 60 households in a subdivision off Old Army Road remain trapped behind downed trees with wires that have not been addressed by the power company. One of the streets in that subdivision is Oak Place, he said.

Afterward, Honecker said JCP&L responded to Oak Ridge in Bernards Township.

A frustrated Honecker said he told JCP&L representatives, "Let's get this straight first — we are Bernardsville Borough, not Basking Ridge."

Many roads on Bernardsville mountain also cut off

Meanwhile, Bernardsville mountain also has multiple streets cut off, although Honecker did not give an estimate of how many homes remain affected.

As of shortly after 3 p.m., Valentine said, "We conducted a second damage assessment today in an attempt to further identify and pinpoint problem areas which are again being communicated to JCPL. No one is trapped at this point as many residents have opened roads and found ways around blockages to get out, and they have cleared JCPL debris on their own."

Valentine added the borough has also hired multiple tree contractors to do what they can to ensure emergency vehicle access throughout Bernardsville, but many low-hanging trees and wires still present a challange. "Stay strong, Bernardsville," he added.

As of 11:30 a.m., Honecker said, "[JCP&L] has done no work that I can tell."

Meanwhile, Honecker said borough emergency officials are aware of all streets and households that are landlocked.

Some of those homes are without a water supply since two-thirds of the borough is served by private wells that rely on electricity to work.

The borough already has been distributing drinkable water at the Bernardsville Library and Bernardsville Middle School. But Honecker said he doesn't know yet whether any water deliveries have been made to trapped households.

Don't touch downed wires

As did others, Honecker said until JCP&L removes or at least certifies wires as safe to remove, the trees can't be touched, even by borough employees.

However, the mayor said he has heard of the hazardous situation in which a group of residents have banded together to remove trees by themselves. Last week, a resident was injured trying to remove a tree and had to be rescued by the borough's recently purchased all-terrain vehicle.

Bernardsville Councilman Joe Rossi had complained to Patch about the situation on Thursday, and some residents have been posting comments asking for assistance.

Bernards High School's gymnasium is open as what reportedly is Somerset County's only shelter for those seeking refuge from Sandy's impact.

That shelter is being operated by the borough Office of Emergency Management, the American Red Cross and with the cooperation of the Somerset Hills regional school district.

"We will continue to operate because we are now the only shelter in Somerset County," said Janet George Murnick, shelter operations manager for the American Red Cross who also is certified as an emergency responder in Bernardsville.

Bernardsville power outages may last another week

She said volunteers at the shelter had been informed by officials that Bernardsville residents can expect to be without power for another week.

About 30 people from around the county were in the shelter on Friday night, and others were in the shelter's special needs section where those who rely on oxygen and other life-essential medical equipment were being supervised closely, and were attended by a nurse, Murnick said.

Borough residents also are dropping by during the day to schedule showers and to recharge batteries and electronics devices, the shelter's volunteers said.

Murnick also said that in an earlier briefing, OEM officials were told that Somerset Hills schools would be closed on Monday as power outages and road closures continue.

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