Following two massive snowstorms that left large portions of the Hudson Valley in the dark, elected officials, from Congress to town supervisors, have berated utility companies that serve the lower Hudson Valley for their response to the first storm. Westchester County Executive George Latimer is calling for the CEOs of two power companies to step down.
When the second storm hit earlier this week, thousands of Con Edison and NYSEG customers were still without power from the first one. Latimer, who on Wednesday called for Con Edison and NYSEG CEOs to step down, stood Friday morning with other elected officials and utility customers, also urging a clean sweep of senior management and the utility companies’ adoption of a new philosophy. Here’s Latimer from his update Thursday.
“I’m not critical of the line employees who are out there hanging out in a bucket truck 30 feet above the ground trying to handle high-voltage powers. They are heroes of this story. And many of the mid-managers, the people who are serving as liaisons inside center like this, are also doing their very, very best,” Latimer said. “I’m critical of those in suits in corporate boardrooms who are not facing the public.”
Latimer, a Democrat, sent a letter earlier in the week to the New York state Congressional delegation, municipal officials and Westchester County Board of Legislators, inviting them to join hims in calling for the presidents of both companies to step down. He accuses top management of fumbling the recovery effort. He says a lack of communication and erroneous information following the first storm are part of the problem.
“I’m articulating the feelings of hundreds upon hundreds of Westchester residents that not just want to know, how come I got bad information, but who are the people making these decisions that treat us with such disrespect,” Latimer said.
On March 6, ahead of the second storm and four days after the first storm, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the Public Service Commission to conduct a review of utilities’ infrastructure and storm response.
“The PSC will do a full review,” Cuomo said. “Depending on their findings, the utility companies can be sanctioned or they could be fined.”
Cuomo described the worst-case scenario as revoking licenses. Director of State Operations Cathy Calhoun joined Latimer Thursday in Yorktown, one of the hardest-hit towns, to provide a storm recovery update. Calhoun said a state of emergency remains in Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan and Westchester Counties. She said Wednesday, before the second storm, power outages statewide were down to 26,000.
“Statewide we’re back at 155,000. That’s a lot of people without power. And we’re all as frustrated as the next one,” Calhoun said. “But it’s not acceptable, the response, from some of our utility companies. It’s just simply not OK.”
She says the state continues to operate a hotline number — 1-866-697-2434. Republican State Senator Terrence Murphy also attended the briefing. He and Republican state Senator Sue Serino have called for a hearing to examine the storm preparedness and response by regional utility companies. Murphy chairs the state Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations.
“And I can promise you, you will have some answers within a few weeks,” Murphy said.
Plus, he says:
“The lack of communication on the utility companies to the local municipalities, to the county, to the state is just completely unacceptable,” said Murphy.
Meantime, Con Edison was scheduled to hold a media briefing Friday morning at its Manhattan headquarters with a storm recovery update. A Con Ed spokeswoman, in an emailed statement, says, "We are focusing on the restoration of customers from the two storms. We understand customers' frustration with not having power. Living without power for a short time is difficult. Living without power for days is nearly unbearable. We want customers to have power as badly as they want it. Most of our workers live in the communities we serve, so our customers are our relatives, friends and neighbors. In fact, many of our crew members who are working long hours doing dangerous, arduous work go home at the end of their shifts to homes without power."
Democrat Michael Kaplowitz sits on the Westchester Board of Legislators. He represents New Castle, Somers and Yorktown, some of the areas with the worst damage, and Con Edison and NYSEG both have customers in his district.
“Anything you can do to get the utilities doing their job as soon as possible would be most appreciated by a lot of cold and tired and hungry and lonely and scared and frustrated people,” said Kaplowitz said. “Needless to say, I don’t think the school kids up here have been to school in quite some time. It’s over a week.”
Schools in Somers are closed; Yorktown has a delayed opening Friday. Kaplowitz says he went to NYSEG’s offices in Brewster, uninvited, between the two storms.
“My goal was to really underscore how frustrated and how necessary it was that they did everything they possibly could substantively and technically and with alacrity to get us up and going,” Kaplowitz said. “It was working.”
Until, he said, the second storm. In an emailed statement, a NYSEG spokesman says, quote "NYSEG is steadfastly committed to restoring power back for our customers as safely and quickly as possible. NYSEG has deployed thousands of men and women from our companies as well neighboring utilities and contractors, who have been working around the clock. We are also actively engaged with the Public Service Commission to address any operational concerns they may have. We will continue to use every available resource until power is back for all of our customers impacted by these two storms."
As of Friday morning, Con Edison was down to some 12,000 Westchester customers without power, some of whom were slated to have lights by Friday night and the rest by Saturday night. NYSEG, as of Friday morning, had about 11,000 customers without power mainly in the worst-off areas of Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties. NYSEG was aiming to restore 90 percent of power by Saturday night.
New York Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel wrote to Con Edison’s chairman, calling the utility’s response completely inadequate. Engel says Con Ed should issue refunds to those who were left without power for a prolonged period of time.