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NORTHWEST CORNER — A full week after Tropical Storm Isaias hit the Northwest Corner, municipal officials from throughout the area all agreed that Eversource’s response to outages was poor.
Tropical Storm Isaias hit the area on Tuesday, Aug. 4, and residents throughout the Northwest Corner were without power for days.
“I think Eversource just flat out blew it,” Barkhamsted First Selectman Don Stein said. “They weren’t prepared and they didn’t follow past practices where the town officials were allowed to participate in setting priorities. They didn’t give their liaisons any authority to do anything other than act as a conduit for information. We saw lots and lots of trucks sitting around for hours in the shopping center parking lots. They would do a job in one location and then have to go 10 miles to another location instead of cleaning up here.”
Stein said that 85 percent of Eversource customers in Barkhamsted were left without power after the storm.
“We fairly rapidly went down to 55 percent,” Stein said. “I know a couple of areas that came back on fairly quickly. But then everything went quiet for four days where no progress was made by Eversource. There was no clarification of what their priorities were or why they were working in one area versus another. We had a couple of roads that the state blocked for several days. Their definition is that if there are two ways to get to a point, and one of them is blocked, that is not a blocked road per se. It’s not a priority one blockage. But, there were trees across roads for several days that were blocked. People had to go several miles out of their way to access the road they needed to get to.”
Stein said that power was fully restored to the town by Tuesday, Aug. 10, one full week after the storm.
He said that, along with the amount of time it took to restore power, he is also frustrated about the lack of communication Eversource had with town officials.
“We had no input into which roads get turned on first, Stein said. “I think the communications and setting of priorities is a big part of corrective action.. I think that if you go back to the October snowstorm several years ago, they stationed a line crew in a town, they would coordinate with the emergency management director, the first selectman, the highway department, and the Eversource liaison. We would together work with them to help set priorities on where they should focus their attention first, second, and third. The other thing we saw, and I know these guys have seen very long days and they need to have breaks, but we saw many trucks parked in the Mallory Brook Shopping Plaza for hours and hours days on end. They were bringing these out of state crews and they wouldn’t put them to work right away. Or they sent them to a place that already had been corrected.”
In Norfolk, First Selectmen Matthew Riiska also did not mince words in reviewing Eversource’s work.
“In one word, awful,” Riiska said. “There’s no nice way to put it. Ninety-nine percent of the town was without power up until noon on Sunday, Aug. 9.”
When asked if he heard back from Eversource on why it took five days to bring power back on in Norfolk, Riiska said “I have not had one conversation from anyone at Eversource, nor have they ever responded to any of my emails.”
“The first time I saw an Eversource truck in town was on the morning of August 9, when I was meeting at the firehouse with the town’s emergency management director,” Riiska said. “There were crews from Illinois at our firehouse waiting to be dispatched and they hung out at the firehouse until probably 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. before Eversource gave them any direction.
They were there for at least three to four hours with no guidance by Eversource.”
Riiska said that the town provided Eversource with a list of significant issues in town, including trees on wires, wires in the road, and roads being blocked due to trees and wires.
“The group from Illinois actually could not believe how bad it was,” Riiska said. “The picture that Eversource painted to the group was that conditions were not that bad.”
Riiska said that he still does not understand why the company did not respond to him or town officials after the storm.
“No one has called me, no one has emailed me with any type of update other than the canned responses that they sent out to everyone,” he said. “With Eversource, somebody needs to go over their plan with them. Because whatever they tell you, their plan doesn’t work.”
Colebrook First Selectman Thomas McKeon shared similar views.
“Eversource was atrocious,” McKeon said. “They were just unorganized. It was Saturday, Aug. 8 before they got anybody up here. We had a lot of trees on the wires but we didn’t have any trees or poles down. Everybody was out of power in town, but it wasn’t like it was a catastrophe with wires all over the place or poles all over the place.”
McKeon said it took six days for power to be restored in town, Monday, Aug. 10.
“Six days is uncalled for,” McKeon said. “Eversource, in general, was unprepared for this storm. Once they got all these outside line crews in here, it was even more disorganization. We had crews up here that were so disorganized they couldn’t find the streets that they were supposed to be going on. They were just totally confused and unprepared for everything. Eversource had plenty of time to get organized and to get help up here.”
Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone said she was disappointed in Eversource’s response to the storm.
“It has been a very stressful 10 days for our residents who were without power,” Carbone wrote via email. “Entire neighborhoods, and in some cases, several contiguous neighborhoods were out for a week. There were health concerns for the residents that are dependent on medical devices, refrigeration for their medication, or simply the comfort of having power for their air-conditioners or fans. One neighborhood is serviced by grinder pumps that move wastewater from their homes. Lacking the power to maintain those pumps created a health concern for the entire street.”
Carbone wrote that “residents were desperate for answers and received mixed messages or misinformation.”
“Our outreach to Eversource from the first evening was met with a slow response,” Carbone wrote. “Our Emergency Management Director personally appeared at the Eversource office in Torrington to get answers. While we understand the magnitude of damage that this storm caused, we are disappointed that the communication was the first failure in this response.”
Despite multiple calls for comments, Winsted Town Manager Robert Geiger, Winsted Mayor Candy Perez, and New Hartford First Selectman Daniel Jerram would all not return calls for comment for this story.
Meanwhile, the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has opened an investigation on the company’s handling of outages after Tropical Storm Isaias.