In the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy last week, PSEG officials warned it might take up to 10 days, or longer in some small pockets, for power to be restored throughout its service region.
For many customers in Essex County the utility’s prediction was right on the money -- a little more than a week after Sandy roared onto the Jersey coast, nearly all customers in Belleville, Bloomfield, and Nutley were back on line, according to estimates by officials in all three towns. Elsewhere in the county, however, considerable pockets of customers still had no electricity Thursday.
But even those officials in towns where power is now largely back still criticized the state’s largest utility for failing to respond promptly to urgent pleas for assistance at individual areas and for a lack of coordination between town workers and utility crews.
“I’ve been on the phone with Mayor [Ray] Kimble and Mayor [Ray] McCarthy in Bloomfield and we’re livid with Public Service,” Nutley Mayor Alphonse Petracco said Wednesday. “As far as the linemen doing their jobs, they get an a-plus. But it’s the administration that needs to change. If you’re not going to communicate with us, so we can communicate with our people, you put us in an unfair position.”
“We’re getting a very poor response from PSEG, so yesterday I just took it to the street. I was actually driving around and if i saw a PSEG tree crew sitting there I grabbed them, talked to their supervisor and got some work accomplished,” Belleville Township Manager Kevin Esposito said Wednesday.
“It’s not so much the service, it’s the lack of communication,” McCarthy said, adding that state Sen. Ron Rice and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo are also working to get answers from PSEG.
PSEG has already had face-to-face meetings with mayors in Bergen County and, on Wednesday, a sit-down with mayors from parts of Essex County, said former Gov. Dick Codey, a state senator whose district includes Livingston, West Orange, Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange. Meetings with Belleville, Nutley and Bloomfield officials will be scheduled for next week, Codey said.
At Wednesday’s meeting in West Orange, which was attended by Ralph LaRossa, the president of PSEG, Codey said there was “a mixture of criticism and a little praise” for the utility. Officials acknowledged the magnitude of the challenge faced by PSEG, with millions of customers out of power even as temperatures dropped to near-freezing and gasoline became a scarce commodity.
As for the criticism, complaints from mayors in his district echoed those of their counterparts in eastern Essex, Codey also said.
“The criticisms were bad information and a failure to communicate,” Codey said. “Residents were told one thing and it never happened.”
McCarthy, Bloomfield’s mayor, recounted an incident that highlights the disconnect between town officials and PSEG that, in some cases, prolonged residents’ hardship longer than necessary.
A street in town, Brook Place, was blocked by a fallen tree. Because it was entangled with power lines, Bloomfield’s tree-removal crew had to wait for a utility crew to address the issue first. But an electrician who lived on the block notified the township that the lines were actually dead, meaning Bloomfield could have safely removed the tree at any time.
“We just need a supervisor to tell us if the line is hot or not, and we’re just not getting that cooperation,” McCarthy said Wednesday.
Codey said Wednesday’s meeting between mayors and PSEG may result in better procedures to streamline the response to problems arising from future storms. The utility has offered to train local tree personnel on how to remove fallen limbs safely even when they may be entangled with lines. Not having to wait on PSEG tree-removal teams is expected to result in a response that is “much, much quicker,” Codey said.
Sandy revealed other challenges, Codey added. At some homes in Maplewood and South Orange, utility poles are located in backyards, making it virtually impossible for utility company trucks to get to them. A decision will have to made on the local level on whether to relocate those poles, Codey said, or keep them in place with the understanding that there could be delays fixing them in the future if they’re knocked out again.