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Downed Trees Slowed Easton Line Work, UI Says

EASTON, Conn. – The power outage in Easton, which for some lasted eight days, left residents wondering – what took so long ?

"UI has proven itself to be incompetent," reader DavidA said in comments on an article on The Daily Easton. Reader Domingothomas wrote, "Both UI and Easton officials have dropped the ball on Easton."

The number of trees in Easton may have contributed to the rate at which power was restored, said Michael West Jr., director of communications at United Illuminating. "Trees were a significant issue. The more the trees – the tougher it was to get power restored."

In some cases, West said, there were three or four trees in the path of a circuit. "It's much more difficult to deal with than just one tree," he said.

Easton has a "unique situation" as compared to the rest of the country because its trees grow higher than the power lines, which creates a "fragile and highly exposed" power source, said First Selectman Thomas Herrmann.

Pruning trees and safeguarding wires is a task the town will undertake to try to prevent another widespread outage. Herrmann was told by UI that 40 mph winds will cause a power outage.

"We were competing for crews. I spoke to crews from Cincinnati and Missouri while I was out and about," said Herrmann.

Herrmann said he asked UI every night how many resources the town could expect for the next day. "They knew the number of events but didn't know what was required to restore each problem," he said. "By noon we would know, after the fact, who they sent. It was extremely frustrating."

UI's restoration schedule was to first restore emergency facilities across its entire service area, said West – which included hospitals, fire departments and police stations. The second step was to have liaisons in each municipality coordinate with emergency operations centers to decide what was a priority. The third step was to get power back to the maximum number of customers in the shortest time. This meant restoring circuits which served more households.

"This highlighted the need for some sort of emergency broadcast system," said Herrmann. "The police department has been charged with evaluating systems and acquiring the appropriate system."

A reverse 9-1-1 system would allow the town to send out a recorded message to all residents–to a landline or cell phone. Herrmann reached out to the town's volunteer webmaster in hopes of posting updates on the town's Website. He did not get a response back until the following Sunday, when he learned that the volunteer had been on vacation. "Maybe we need to pay to have the Website maintained," he said.

United Illuminating's distribution charge is based on usage and is the same for all customers. Customers choose a company to provide generation, and that's where costs might vary from home to home. Both payments are on one bill, but UI only collects the distribution amount.

"UI's performance during nearly 20 years in Easton has been abysmal–far worse than in any other community in which I have lived. The necessary redesign and upgrades to the power grid are unlikely to occur within the near future," Reader Kumakun wrote on a recent article.

The only option for residents who want to opt out of UI's services is to buy their own emergency backup generator.

Some residents were disappointed with local leaders who couldn't get the power back up sooner.

"On Tuesday I called the Department of Public works to ask about an emergency plan in place for Easton and was told if there is a plan I am not aware of it!!! Today I went to Town Hall and asked to see our selectman–by the way he is out of the country–so was told by all there he is in constant communication. I guess that 6 hour time difference is not a problem," commented reader Briar53.

Herrmann said he left Easton on Monday. On the day of the storm he surveyed the town and documented damage with photos. He visited shut-in seniors on Monday and met with emergency personnel, the UI liaison, police department and Ed Nagy, director of public works.

"The next few days required me to have a telephone and Internet," said Herrmann. The town hall was without phone lines until Friday. "For the next few days, I was on the phone for 14 hours. Anyone who called or emailed me got an immediate response." Herrmann added that he was "holed up in an office" during the time he was out of town but did now say where.

He returned on Friday and by Saturday half of the customers who lost power had been restored, Herrmann said.

How do you feel about United Illuminating's work after Hurricane Irene? Do you think anyone should have done more?

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