NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Clearly flustered and at times down right angry, members of the Borough Council lashed out over the lack of a timely and forthcoming response from JCP&L during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“People were starving for information,” Mayor J. Brooke Hern said at Monday night’s meeting.
He added that when information was received from JCP&L, it was usually inaccurate.
The mayor said, at one point, that he had been told by JCP&L officials that power would be restored to 3500 customers in a matter of hours. “The hours went by, then the next day and then the next,” a frustrated Mr. Hern said.
The lack of timely and accurate information became so bad that the mayor passed along the information with a caveat; “You can’t count on it, it came from JCP&L.”
However, there were some small successes during the early aftermath. Council President Michael Gennaro related the actions of Deputy Chief Scott Torre who was concerned about the lack of power to the two-story Barabash Manor which houses a large number of Senior Citizens.
Spotting a line crew from Ohio, Chief Torre shared his concerns and the out-of-staters restored service in less than an hour. The Chief also directed crews to other downtown emergency areas.
Mr. Gennaro suggested that future discussions with JCP&L should center on establishing on-the-ground procedures to improve communication. He noted that many of the crews were from all over the United States and entirely unfamiliar with the borough and its priorities.
Mayor Hern said the lack of JCP&L cooperation became more readily apparent as the storm’s aftermath extended. “Clearly JCP&L doesn’t know who they have on the ground or where they are,” he added.
Councilman Alan Lesnewich noted the large influx of crews from Ohio, Alabama and Georgia. “Those people were forthcoming and answered questions.”
Councilman Dr. Bob Robinson said he had invited JCP&L District Representative Stan Prader to the council meeting to discuss ways communications could be improved. Mr. Prader was unable to attend but Dr. Robinson said he would continue to extend an invitation.
Councilman Rob Munoz suggested a non-adversarial public meeting with JCP&L representatives to discuss ways of improving communications. “It would be a great way to reach out,” he added.
The council meeting also provided members with an opportunity to praise the efforts of the borough’s emergency services team and the scores of volunteers who responded to a town in need.
Dr. Robinson cited the efforts of the Office of Emergency Management which was operating 24/7 and led by Police Chief Anthony Buccelli, Mayor Hern and Borough Administrator Doug Marvin.
The councilman also praised the efforts of former Mayor Al Morgan who, upon learning there was a dangerous situation at the town’s sewage pumping station, contacted Assemblyman Jon Bramnick who immediately arranged to have a 400 KW generator sent to the plant.
Councilman Armand Galluccio spent a great deal of time at the Municipal Hall shelter and marveled over the scores of volunteers who brought coffee, snacks and cookies. He also praised the Lion’s Club for donations of food and water.
Mr. Galluccio also advised residents to add their cell phone numbers to receive Code Red messages by visiting the borough’s website.
As always in such events, the borough’s Department of Public Works was very much in evidence as they responded to the storm. Councilman James Cucco said they removed more than 100 trees from borough right-of-way. He said that as of November 10, the DPW logged 968 regular and 442 overtime hours.
Mayor Hern was quick to cite the bravery of first responders-police, fire and EMT’s. “The night of the hurricane was a pretty frightening experience.” Concerned with a life-threatening situation during the 90 MPH winds, orders were issued to recall first responders.
The Borough Council passed two storm related resolutions. One extends the grace period for tax payments to November 19. The other waives fees for electrical reconnects and tree removal. Obtaining a permit is still required to ensure code compliance.