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Lower Hudson Valley Grapples With Outages, Calls On Utilities For More Info

Rockland County workers clean up after storm damage, August 2020
Courtesy of Rockland County government
Rockland County workers clean up after storm damage, August 2020

As outages persist throughout New York’s Hudson Valley following Tropical Storm Isaias, some elected officials are pointing fingers at the response of their utility companies. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for an investigation and some power restoration estimates are still pending.

Officials in Rockland and Westchester Counties say the storm damage is reminiscent of Superstorm Sandy in 2012. After this week’s storm, about half of Rockland County was without power. Speaking with WAMC around 3 this afternoon, Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says about 70 percent of outages have been fixed.

“We presently have about 22,800 customers out of service in Rockland County still,” Day says.  “The major issue that they are dealing with right now is the fact they have 10 of their transmission lines down. Those are the lines that actually deliver to the entire system, so they had serious infrastructure damage.”

Day, who had just been on a call with Orange & Rockland Utilities, says the company wanted to get a better handle on system outages before posting specific information.

They do not want to put specifics up and mislead people,” says Day. “They have assured us that these outages, specific outages, will be detailed on their web site by 7 o’clock this evening.”

That’s not good enough for Clarkstown Town Supervisor George Hoehmann.

“In my town, Clarkstown, we’ve been hit the hardest. We have 90,000 residents. There are 32,000 O&R accounts up here and, at the height, we had 29,000 of those accounts out of power.   As of today, Thursday, we have a third or our residents that are still out of power, and O&R won’t even tell us until tonight when the connections, specific restoration estimates for the folks up here,” Hoehmann says. “I have way too many police officers that are guarding downed power lines because O&R doesn’t have the people here to replace them. It’s a big, big problem, and it literally, it seems like we’re just reliving what happened with Sandy a number of years ago.”

He says more than 100 roads were impacted by downed lines and trees.

“O&R didn’t have enough crews here; they weren’t prepared; and their communication response has been terrible,” says Hoehmann.

Hoehmann and four other town supervisors in Rockland have written to the president of O&R, calling for the utility to conduct an internal review of preparedness and response procedures, and issue a report. An O&R spokesman says, “We are focused on the restoration. We realize it is extremely frustrating to be without power. That’s why we are working around the clock to restore customers.” The storm hit Tuesday. On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Public Service to launch an investigation into utility companies to determine the causes of their failures.

“From the utility’s point of view, there was a storm and trees came down and wires fell. Yes, I know. This is not our first rodeo. That’s what happens,” Cuomo says. “We pay the utility companies to be ready to fix the situation or avoid the situation.”

Rockland County Executive Day:

“To a certain degree, I certainly agree with the governor but, again, calling for an investigation within hours of the storm being over, really, frankly, I think his efforts would be better served in making sure the Public Service Commission, who are members appointed by him, that they do their job and make sure the utilities are doing their job,” says Day.  

Day says he appreciates Cuomo’s disaster declaration for a number of counties, including Rockland, and Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Westchester Counties. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer also delivered a storm update today.

“Somebody said to me, is it realistic to think that power would have been restored to all these places in 24 hours? No, but is it realistic to think there’s a public game plan of how it’s going to be restored and is freely shared, yes, that is, that is a realistic expectation,” says Latimer.

Con Edison serves 90 percent of Westchester County. The remainder is served by NYSEG. A Con Ed spokesman says 90 percent of county residents will have power back by Sunday night.

He says, “We understand it is incredibly frustrating to be without power and that’s why we are working around the clock to get customers restored. We have over 1,500 workers in the field and more arriving every day. We are clearing roads, removing trees, making downed wires safe, replacing poles and transformers, and reconnecting customers.” Again, Latimer.

“I am not looking to punish people. I’m looking to get a good result here. That’s what matters to me,” Latimer says. “Getting loud and getting mad is only when you run out of options of things to say and do. On this, the second day, after the hit of the storm, there is plenty of time for rational understanding of what has to be done, lay it out there, and then start showing how you’re reconnecting in the right places so that people have a sense of, yes, things are moving.”

It was near the fifth day of an outage in March 2018 that Latimer, as he puts it, lost his temper at utility companies, saying there was poor response and poor communication. Since, Con Edison took further storm readiness measures. Also Thursday, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said Con Edison must be accountable for its lack of responsiveness when restoring power in the city.

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