BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ Bernards Mayor James Baldassare told residents he will invite a JCP&L representative to a public meeting within the next few weeks to answer residents' questions about the power company's response to Tropical Storm Isaias, and the prolonged power outages around town that followed.
The mayor announced his intention at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting, after concerns were raised about the outages and the need for future planning. On Friday, Baldassare said he will be communicating with the township's Jersey Central Power & Light representative in the upcoming week to try to set a date for a public meeting at which residents and the Township Committee can ask questions and provide feedback to the utility provider.
Areas left without power until a week after the storm
Power outages throughout Bernards Township persisted in some areas for up to a week, with the mayor announcing on Aug. 11 that all but one residence had finally had electricity restored following the Aug. 4 storm.
Winds and rain downed trees and power lines throughout Bernards and surrounding towns, with more than half of Somerset County initially knocked out.
Baldassare also asked residents to submit their questions beforehand to the Township Committee email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The township already has posted a notice on the Bernards Township website and invited any residents with any questions, concerns or complaints or further wishes to share their comments _ either positive or negative _ with the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) share any comments whether positive or negative, should contact the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), he added.
"This will ensure the BPU is also aware of the issues that are important to our community with regard to the main power outage caused by Isaias and also the power outages that happen regularly with seemingly no reason (nice sunny days) during and throughout the year," Baldassare said in an email on Friday.
"If anyone has any information or questions they would like the Township Committee to address with both JCP&L and the BPU, we encourage residents to send in and share their thoughts with the Township Committee as well as the BPU," he said.
'Stakes these days much higher'
At the Township Committee meeting, resident Jon Sandler asked what plan the township has in place before the next storm hits, with more resulting power outages.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, "the stakes are much higher," Sandler said. "What are we doing as a township to be prepared for the next storm?" He said that simply pointing fingers at JCP&L "is not enough."
"I do think we should have a pro-active analysis," said Township Committeewoman Joan Harris. "We have had a history of outages for lesser storms, and we have to get to the bottom of it, including speaking to JCP&L," she said.
Baldassare noted that ultimately it is up to the power company to get electricity back on, and added that even after complaints following past storms, JCP&L continues to be "miserable communicators" in letting the community _ and even officials _ know what is going on, and giving accurate restoration times.
Resident Todd Edelstein said he doesn't think having fines levied against the power company is the answer, because the financial cost to the utility will ultimately be passed along to ratepayers.
Edelstein also thanked the mayor and other officials for their own hard work during the storm, including opening the Pill Hill recycling center a few extra days last week to allow residents to dispose of storm debris.
"The community really pulled together," said Township Committeewoman Janice Fields.
Township Committeeman John Carpenter also lauded the township staff, including Township Administrator Pat Monaco and Municipal Clerk Rhonda Pisano. He said the staff has been there even as he has seen "the chips down several times through the years."
The notice on the Bernards Township website reads: "In our continuing efforts to do what we can to help our residents in Bernards Township, I would encourage everyone affected by the most recent power outage caused by Tropical Storm Isaias, as well as those residents who often lose power when no significant event has taken place, to submit a comment or complaint to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) about the service provided by JCP&L during this last storm and beyond. Please see the link that has been provided and share your questions/concerns and/or general feedback whether positive or negative. We will continue to do all that we can to advocate for all our residents and try to help drive the necessary changes that need to be made going forward."
Additionally, the same comments can be submitted the BPU's Division of Customer Assistance, which handles verbal, written and e-mail complaints as well as in-person office interviews and other information inquiries. That link is at www.bpu.state.nj.us.