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Fairfield County Officials Lodge Irene Complaints

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — If you were among the more than 1.2 million customers in Connecticut who lost power during Hurricane Irene, you'll be able to vent your frustration at a public hearing Monday at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Plenty of officials and residents from Fairfield County towns plan to attend. Tom Lombardo, head of Stamford's Emergency Center, said Wednesday that many complaints about Connecticut Light & Power will be lodged during next week's public hearing.

Lombardo said he met with representatives of 11 of the 14 other towns in Fairfield County that are part of the Emergency Management Subcommittee to discuss next week's meeting, saying they "made a list of complaints," but did not want to reveal them yet.

Dan Warzoha of Greenwich, who heads the subcommittee and will be speaking at the hearing, could not be reached for comment.

But state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, had plenty to say. Lavielle, who called quickly for a review of the "lack of preparedness and communications" during the storm, was at the legislature's first Irene hearing this week in front of four General Assembly panels, including the Public Safety, and Energy and Technology committees.

She said that from testimony presented by utility company executives "they understand the reasons for the outages – such as massive tree downings." She said they also admitted to a lack of communication that kept people in the dark about when power would be restored.

But she isn't sure they have any answers on how to resolve the issues. "I came away Monday feeling they know what went wrong and why, but don't know how to prevent it from happening again in the future, and that is deeply troubling," Lavielle said. "The storm could have been much worse, and even with it being downgraded look at how long so many people lost power."

Lavielle said that after the power companies and other officials made "carefully prepared presentations," several upstate mayors, first selectmen and other public officials expressed outrage at the length of the outages and lack of communication.

"In CL&P's 100-year history, no storm has caused as much damage or as many outages as Tropical Storm Irene," Jeff Butler, president and chief operating officer, told lawmakers. "The combination of wind and flooding rains left as many as 7 million customers from the Carolinas to Maine without electricity, with over 1 million of them from Connecticut.

"With widespread damage affecting all 149 cities and towns, we safely restored as many outages as we typically would in 11 months. For our electric system, this storm was the worst in history," he said.

"As with any major disaster, we will all learn from examining the impacts of this storm, and we hope to work with the state and its communities to make continuous improvements. We welcome a dialogue with state and municipal leaders to discuss improvements we can all make in vegetation management, as trees created the vast majority of outages."

Similar remarks were made by representatives for United Illuminating, indicating about half of its 324,000 customers in 17 towns and cities also lost power – including large numbers in Fairfield and Easton.

Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia has said there should have been better planning and preparedness.

"I can't be responsible for all the mistakes CL&P made," Moccia said. "That's not my call. We had great cooperation from the line people and from the emergency center. But if the powers that be didn't give them enough crews, that's beyond their call, my call."

To reach Richard Weizel, email rweizel@mainstreetconnect.us .

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