MILLBURN, NJ - Millburn officials are fighting mad about the performance of Jersey Central Power & Light in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last month, when many residents were without power for a week or more.
Mayor Sandra Haimoff opened Tuesday night’s meeting with a lengthy statement about the problems the township encountered in dealing with the electric utility and the lessons learned. She also outlined some steps the town can take.
“We need to get all the towns in New Jersey who subscribe to JCP&L together to ask the state legislature… to take action against the Board of Public Utilities, First Energy and JCP&L,” she said. “We need an electric company that is based in New Jersey, not in Ohio. We will be sending a letter to these towns asking them to join with us in requesting a legislative hearing.”
Haimoff also said local leaders will ask the legislature to look at the money the utility distributes to shareholders in relation to the money spent on infrastructure. In addition, officials will look at all options that would help bring a more dependable way of delivering service, including the possibility of the township operating the system.
She noted the township had instituted a block captain program in the South Mountain area following Hurricane Irene last year. Those captains receive and disseminate information and report to the township during an emergency.
The program will be expanded throughout the rest of the township, according to Haimoff.
Following the mayor’s remarks, about a dozen residents came forth to offer their own experiences and perspectives.
Phil Kirsch suggested that the township evaluate its trees and consider allowing more clearing of branches that could interfere with power lines.
Joshua Cougan reported he had volunteered at the shelter run by Essex County and “it was a disaster there, too.” He noted the initial shelter at the Richard J. Codey Arena at South Mountain had to be moved to the Turtle Back Zoo and could not accommodate the 150 people county officials promised.
Haimoff responded, “We have to look into what shelter arrangements can be made.”
Several speakers, including Rodney Shinners and John Jennings, suggested the utility would only respond to strong measures.
“They won’t do what they don’t have to do,” Shinners said.
Jennings suggested “a [law]suit if necessary.”
Part of the hour-long discussion centered on debris pickup. Assistant Township Administrator Alexander McDonald said public works crews are picking up tree branches and logs, but the debris must be separated from leaves.
He promised to post on the township’s website where the crews will be working.
Haimoff said JCP&L will be picking up utility poles and transformers on the ground. She also said the cleanup process could take months.
The mayor also said during the storm, she received more than 2,000 texts from residents, which she tried to answer. Warming centers were opened at the Bauer Community Center in Taylor Park and the recreation building at Gero Park, and information was distributed there.
Several residents praised the township’s Code Red system, in which the township sent out phone messages. Haimoff urged residents to register their cell phones as well as their land lines.
One resident complained he didn’t see members of the Township Committee other than the mayor during the outage. Haimoff responded, “They were doing work that needed to be done.”
Also at the session, committee member Thomas McDermott reported that the Joint Meeting, the sewage system in which Millburn participates, did not suffer any loss of treatment capacity during the power outage. He credited a co-generation plant that had been built, which was costly but necessary.
“It performed admirably,” McDermott said.
In other business, the governing body passed an ordinance limiting the hours for parking on Ferncliff Terrace. Residents of the street, near the Short Hills train station, had requested the limits to discourage commuters from parking there.
The committee also introduced an ordinance to spend $800,000 to repair the stormwater drainage system, roads, curbs, sidewalks and other infrastructure and public property damaged during Hurricane Irene. The money has already been allocated from the township’s capital improvement fund.
The public hearing on the proposed ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 18.