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UI Failed During Irene, Says Easton's Herrmann

EASTON, Conn. – First Selectman Thomas Herrmann has given the United Illuminating Company a failing grade for its response to the dozens of closed roads in Easton following Hurricane Irene.

“UI failed to establish road clearing as the number one priority," Herrmann said Tuesday. "Instead, they took resources and used them to restore power.”

Herrmann met with United Illuminating officials Friday to “review UI’s response to storm damage caused by Irene.” It was town officials' first meeting with the utility company since the storm.

The day after Irene hit some 20 roads were deemed impassible in Easton. They “created a public safety hazard” because emergency vehicles could not respond in a timely manner,” Herrmann said.

“Our number one priority would have been the roads,” Herrmann said.

For its part, UI blamed trees weakened by age or disease. “The major issue we found was that there needs to be a more comprehensive statewide tree maintenance program,” said UI Director of Communications Michael West said.

The United Illuminating Company has met with nearly 60 percent of all towns and cities in its service territory, and, according to West, the goal of each meeting is to discuss UI’s response during severe storms.

UI is also trying to develop a better game plan for future severe storms to hit the region, West said. “The goal of these meetings is to have this same kind of dialogue that we had last week. We are working to enhance our approach to storm restoration the next time around,” West said.

During the meeting last week, Herrmann said, “UI officials acknowledged that they did not allocate sufficient resources to clear the roads.” Herrmann said he feared that if a storm of Irene’s magnitude were to hit Easton in the winter, the outcome could be life-threatening. “It would have been a horror,” he said, speaking of a future storm. “Impassible roads mean emergency vehicles cannot get to the people in need.”

If there are downed trees in the roads, Herrmann said, it is the town’s responsibility to clear them out. But in the case of Irene, he said, many of the downed trees were either caught in power lines or caused utility poles to crash into the roadways, making it the utility company's responsibility.

Many of the tree mishaps could have been avoided by area municipalities, West said. “There were a number of trees that were diseased or damaged trees that have not been addressed and that is not an issue of the utility companies,” he said.

“There have been a number of issues that have come up during these meetings and that is the whole point of this process,” West said. Some of those issues have been response time, power restoration and risk management.

“Safety will always be our number one priority," he said. "We certainly didn’t want Irene to come, but she came anyway.”

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