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Power Company Grilled at Westport Hurricane Forum

WESTPORT, Conn. – Hurricane Irene may be a distant memory for some, but Weston resident Sue Harris hasn't forgotten that she was without electricity for days. That's why she drove to Westport Town Hall on Thursday night to make it clear to two Connecticut Light & Power representatives that she is unhappy with the company's post-storm performance

"I am incensed and furious at CL&P," Harris said during a citizens' review on Hurricane Irene preparedness. "Sunday [after the storm] we went out and about Westport, Weston, Fairfield, up and down the Post Road and never saw a CL&P truck."

Not seeing enough trucks on the road the day the storm hit wasn't Harris' only complaint. She also criticized the company's communication with customers.

"When we called and talked to somebody, they said they were accessing the situation,” she said. “For days and days and days, nothing was happening.”

At the height of power outages, about 9,700 Westport customers, or 77 percent of the town, were without power after the storm. Statewide, nearly 700,000 CL&P residents lost power at the peak as well as tens of thousands of customers of other utility companies.

Although fallen trees were to blame for causing the majority of outages, Westport resident Katie Graves, who lives on Wright Street, brought into questions the utility's role in tree-grooming practices.

"We lived on Greens Farms Road for many years and the trees were pruned regularly. You we wonderful,” said Graves. "We moved across the river to Wright Street, I think we’ve been there about 13 years, and I don't think I've ever seen pruners from the utility company there. I want you on Wright Street."

Unlike speakers before him, Westporter Leo Cirino went to bat for CL&P, saying it's the responsibility of homeowners, not CL&P, to trim trees on their property. The power company is obligated to prune trees only after they touch power lines, he said. But overgrown branches that touch power lines wouldn't be an issue if residents maintained their trees in the first place, he said.

As he addressed audience concerns, Todd Blosser, director of operations for CL&P's southern division, said, "Nothing I'm going to say tonight will make everyone feel better about CL&P." However, he said the power company prepared as best as it could for the storm. In fact, he said the company started planning six days before it hit.

He also said the company tried new communication methods learned from past storms. At the same time, he agreed there is always room for improvement on both fronts.

During the forum, several residents also expressed a desire to see buried power lines. But as Blosser explained, having buried power lines doesn't mean that residents won't ever lose power again.

"As a matter of fact, if you do have a power outage, there's a greater chance you'll be out longer based on the fact we can’t see what we’re looking at," he said. "That is simply not the answer to all the problems.”

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