South Orange Calls for BPU, Legislature to Investigate PSE&G Storm Response

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey Credits: Amy Kiste Nyberg

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – Power has been restored to all of South Orange, but village trustees are not done talking about Public Service Electric & Gas.

Trustees passed a resolution with a 6-0 vote asking the state Board of Public Utilities and the New Jersey Legislature to conduct an investigation into the utility’s handling of the “historic and crippling loss of power” in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

In addition, trustees want the BPU and the Legislature to take legislative action “to compel PSE&G, and all public utility companies … to adopt the recommendations from this investigation.”

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The resolution notes that more than 12,000 South Orange residents and businesses were without power, and that some customers did not have electricity restored until Nov. 11, 13 days after the storm struck. Some of the criticisms leveled at the utility in the document include the inability of the utility to provide reliable information about outages and a timeline for restoration, and its failure to accurately track work completed.

Among the remedies proposed:

  • utilities must provide a spokesperson at the municipal building of any area where more than 5 percent of customers are without power for more than a day and issue twice-daily detailed reports
  • the BPU should set and enforce stronger standards for accuracy and timeliness of information
  • the BPU should re-evaluate and improve the way in which utilities collect, manage and assign repairs

In addition, the resolution calls for utilities to have a climate change preparedness plan and to have its emergency response plan approved by the state.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, a South Orange resident, said that on Wednesday she and Assemblyman John McKeon met with mayors of municipalities and with Ralph LaRossa, president and CEO of PSE&G. “LaRossa admitted communication was not where it needed to be,” she said. She said legislators will pursue the “many unanswered questions” they have for the utility.

On the local level, trustees praised the efforts of village employees. Village President Torpey read the names of all the Department of Public Works Employees, who worked around the clock during the storm and its aftermath. All staffers and volunteers “are the unsung heroes of these storms,” he said.

Village Administrator Barry Lewis Jr. added that he was impressed by the “spirit of community” in South Orange. “It was really inspiring,” he said.

Torpey, who serves as coordinator of Office of Emergency Management, reported on the success of various methods of distributing information to residents, noting that the number of people signed up for emergency alerts jumped from 465 to more than 1,000.

However, Trustee Michael Goldberg said the village still needs to improve its communication plan. “I heard from countless people that they didn’t know what was going on,” he said. He also said that official communication needed to do a better job of “managing people’s expectations” in terms of how soon problems could be addressed.

In other action, the Board of Trustees:

  • Adopted an ordinance amending the village code to include a definition of local landmarks and creating a list of landmarks that would be subject to preservation regulations. This ordinance supplements the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission earlier this year.
  • Approved the purchase of three vehicles as follows: $31,845.30 for a utility vehicle for the DPW; $32,314 for an all-wheel-drive utility vehicle for the Police Department; and $190,060 for a street sweeper.
  • Approved hiring a full-time laborer in the DPW, and appointing Marc Bromfeld as a commissioner to the South Orange Parking Authority.

The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.

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