ROXBURY, NJ - Green leaves, pretty flowers and the sounds of lawnmowers are erasing the bitter memories among Roxbury residents left without power during this year's March snowstorms. But the days without electricity were not forgotten by township officials, who this week hosted a Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) representative at a town meeting.
At the session, JCP&L Area Manager Jacqueline Espinoza acknowledged the company was overwhelmed by the late-winter barrage but insisted it did the best it could to safely restore electricity.
The presence of a JCP&L representative was requested by the council in March. Some members of the panel felt Roxbury received less-than-acceptable service from the utility after the hard-hitting showstorms. Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo was particularly adamant in insisting that JCP&L come to Roxbury prepared to answer questions.
"What happened in Roxbury?" asked DeFillippo shortly after the final storm. "How come in Roxbury it was almost two weeks that people were without power?”
Espinoza, speaking at this week's meeting of the Roxbury Mayor and Council, said the timing and ferocity of the storms caused "many healthy trees" to topple and, in doing so, wipe out power lines. She explained that the company and government emergency management agencies, have adopted a new approach to storms, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that focuses on opening blocked roads before sending out power repair crews.
"We heard about this loud and clear after Hurricane Sandy; residents were trapped in their neighborhoods," Espinoza said. JCP&L will now cut power to areas where trees or branches are in the way and then wait for tree crews to come and work. This prevents those workers from being harmed by live lines, she said.
This could result in residents, in dark houses, looking out their windows and seeing JCP&L people in their neighborhood who appear to be doing nothing.
"Due to safety, we can't just start driving down the road and throwing fuses in" Espinoza said. "We work from the substations out. We start by analyzing what needs to be done so you're going to see - in the beginning - a lot of trucks going up and down the roads. It can be very frustrating, but they are identifying what the situation is."
After getting a clear picture of the situation, a crew supervisor and four or five repair trucks will go to an area and again "go up and down the line to make sure" everything is in good order, she said. "There are a lot of safety procedures set in place before we can energize," Espinoza said."Everyone at Jersey Central Power and Light has a different role during a storm. We can even have someone from the office go out and sit by a live wire."
"We're doing a lot to secure the infrastructure and make it strong," said Espinoza. She said the company is planning two projects for Roxbury this year designed to increase the local power grid's redundancy.
Roxbury Department of Public Works Director Richard Blood suggested JCP&L re-think the part of its system "modernization" that involved replacing more easily breakable "spacer cables" with heavy-duty, 3-wire clusters. In the past, he said, a branch falling on a line would snap the spacer. But, because the 3-wire clusters don't break as easily, a falling tree can "take down six poles," asserted Blood.
Espinoza said she will discuss Blood's concern with JCP&L engineers.