PSE&G and NJ Mayors Explore Storm Options

Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover, Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr and Westfield Town Administrator Jim Gildea Credits: Mindy Scarlett

SCOTCH PLAINS, FANWOOD, NJ – Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr attended a special meeting on Tuesday presented by the New Jersey League of Municipalities and PSE&G to look at the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and define what issues need to addressed by the utilities going forward..

Ralph LaRossa, President of PSE&G, presented an overview of what was done prior to the storm, what issues had to be dealt with during the storm and what courses of action are being considered after the fact.

“We brought in tree trimmers even before the storm, and did major trimming around infrastructures such as hospitals and we brought in hundreds of lineman from all over the US,” said LaRossa. PSE&G also freed up regular crews by completely routine work early, shipped in major loads of supplies and prepared sub stations against flooding.

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Unfortunately, most of these measures did not stand up to the conditions brought about by Superstorm Sandy.  “The only thing the forecast got right was the amount of rain. Winds were predicted at up to 65 miles per hour and they came through at over 90 miles an hour; the storm surge we were expecting was between 3 and 6 feet and our highest point was actually 13½ feet. It was this storm surge that did most of the damage.”

LaRossa then outlined the origins of many of the issues faced by towns in the aftermath of the storm.

“Our call center was without power for two days, we had thousands of lineman from all over the country who were reporting in at 11 pm at night with paper reports – these had to be collected, entered into the system and a report generated that would show what work needed to be done for the next day.”

The underlying issue was that the flooding of so many major substations made it impossible to bring power back on line quickly. The question on everyone’s lips was “why was not more done to protect these sub stations?”

LaRossa gave the history of the substations, in that there were built over 100 years ago next to where industry was booming – near the rivers. This now presents the problem of either moving or raising these substations. While PSE&G is exploring many options, there is no one obvious solution and no matter what is done it will involve major changes to infrastructure with the ensuing high price tag.

After the meeting, Glover commented that is was good that PSE&G was exploring options, but felt that internal communication and technology also needed to be upgraded in addition to whatever decisions were made about how to protect substations from flooding. 

“Lack of communication was a major problem, not only for PSE&G, but for the Town of Scotch Plains as well," Glover said. "Fanwood had already installed generators and they had a communication plan. We are looking into installing a permanent generator at city hall that will be able to run power 24/7. If major changes are not made to infrastructure over time, both for PSE&G and for our town, the major issues caused by Hurricane Sandy will happen again.”

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