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‘Misinformation From Eversource’ Spells More Disappointment For Thousands Without Power



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First Selectman Dan Rosenthal was very clear in his latest post-Tropical Storm Isaias CodeRED message: the utility charged with providing electricity to Newtown continues to fail with restoration. This time, he said, the utility’s efforts are not only slow, but the information given to the utility’s liaison to forward to local leaders was wrong.

And with more than 4,000 still in the dark — more than four in ten Newtown homes or businesses — Eversource was claiming “significant progress” in an e-mail sent to its customers early Sunday afternoon.

Rosenthal opened his August 8 message by saying he had been given incorrect information by Eversource the previous day. As a result, many residents who had expected to see utility crews begin working on their streets were once again let down.

The full transcript of Saturday evening’s message follows:

“Good evening, this is First Selectman Dan Rosenthal.

“I would like to apologize for what appears to have been misinformation from Eversource last evening. Many of the roads that I mentioned did not see crews last evening and some of those areas are just seeing crews now.

“In past events, the information I received from our community representative has been reliable and consistent and our representative is not to blame here. It appears the approach taken by management has been to restrict the representatives’ access from what is referred to as the ‘war room,’ where they plan and allocate resources.

“This is a complete departure from previous practice and has led to all kinds of frustration on my part, as other than being told there are crews in town and there are more and more, there is not much more clarity as to a plan.

“While I will continue to push to make sure we are getting an equitable allocation of line crews, I do not want to share misinformation and build false hope. Eversource now says Newtown will be substantially restored by noon on Tuesday and I wish I had more than that for you right now.

“Some progress was made in town again today with total outages down to 45% from 55% yesterday and blocked roads are down to 32 from 40 yesterday and our DPW employees are working with an Eversource Make Safe crew to open more roads this evening.

“Tomorrow the following locations will be open for charging and Wi-Fi: the community center from 7 am to 5 pm, high school from 6 am to 9 pm — as well as showers — Reed School from 8 am to 4 pm and the library back parking lot.

“Water is available for your own containers at Hook and Ladder, Sandy Hook, Sandy Hook substation, Dodgingtown and Botsford fire houses and the Parks & Recreation Maintenance Facility adjacent to Reed School. There are also garbage containers at Botsford, Sandy Hook and Dodgingtown fire houses for spoiled food.

“I am as upset with all this as you are and there will come a time when this is over to demand a full review and seek accountability. This storm did a lot of damage, but the lesson learned should be that we do not continue to do the same things in terms of preparation and expect a different result.

“Thank you and good night.”

‘Historic Restoration Effort’ During A Pandemic

Eversource, in its early Sunday afternoon update e-mail, said, “Significant restoration progress was made overnight. Since Saturday morning another 160,000 customers have been brought back in power. We know you’re still out and we’re working hard to get you back. Town-by-town estimates are posted on our website, and this information is being updated regularly,” the email stated.

Statewide, Eversource reported 839,000 customers were left without power due to the storm.

“While many town estimates show substantially complete on Monday or Tuesday, overall we expect to have 90 [percent] of all Eversource customers in service by this evening. There also are some towns that present extra challenges due to the significant damage or the remote nature of these communities,” Sunday’s e-mail continued.

“With more than 2,300 crews on the ground, we expect to have restoration substantially complete by Tuesday at 11:59 pm. Substantially complete means fewer than 1 percent of customers in a town are still without power, so most customers in that town will likely be back in power sooner.”

Responding to this level of widespread damage involves significant behind-the-scenes logistics, the utility pointed out in the e-mail.

On its website Sunday, the utility further explained those efforts, saying in addition to those out working on lines, “there are thousands more coordinating the effort behind the scenes. From orchestrating the movement of thousands of new utility poles and transformers to the areas where they are needed most, to securing more than 6,500 beds for crews and serving more than 30,000 meals daily during a pandemic – our support teams are dedicated to ensuring that our team can get the job done as quickly and safely as possible.

“To safely accommodate crews repairing the incredible damage Isaias left in its wake, Eversource has established staging areas across the state while adhering to strict social distancing, hygiene and sanitation measures to safeguard the health of our team and communities.”

Eversource Vice President of Supply Chain and Property Management Ellen Greim was quoted online, saying the pandemic “has created many unique challenges and required thoughtful consideration of how we are operating our staging areas and mobile command centers that dispatch crews to outages, as well as how we are supporting our crews with the materials, food and lodging that they need.

“As we limit the number of team members working in confined spaces,” Greim added, “we have established large staging areas to accommodate the hundreds of additional vehicles and trailers required to support this historic restoration effort. Additionally, we have established smaller staging sites in our hardest-hit communities to efficiently move tools and equipment where they are needed most.”

Some local residents do not want to hear any excuses from Eversource. Among a stream of tweets since the storm Newtown resident Elissa Altman tagged The Newtown Bee in a few, including one Saturday: “As was just pointed out to me: no water in a pandemic — No ability to wash hands. No ability to wash clothes. No ability to flush toilets. The safest COVID state in the country is CT.

“Until now.”

At 2:45 pm Sunday, Newtown was still listed with a noon Tuesday, August 11 estimated restoration. At that time, there were still 4,771 residents — 41.63 percent of the utility’s local customers — without power five full days after the storm.

Power At PJ’s

Newtown’s only laundromat, PJ’s Laundry never lost power. The Sandy Hook Center business has a generator, and a staff that has been very busy in recent days, according to business owner Sharon Doherty.

“We saw an uptick on Thursday,” Doherty said early Sunday afternoon. Behind her, every washing machine and every dryer in her 100 Church Hill Road establishment was being used.

“Around then, a lot of people realized power wasn’t coming back very soon,” she said. Eversource announced on Saturday at Newtown would be “substantially” back online around noon Tuesday, August 11.

Doherty greeted most customers as they arrived at the door. When possible, she would direct them toward an open machine or two. Otherwise, she would put them on a wait list.

“We’re full right now,” she told one woman who was juggling three very large bags of laundry. “I can put you on the list, which is about a 20 minute wait right now.”

After hesitating for a moment, the woman opted to have her name added to that wait list.

Residents are not the only ones who count on the local business. Contracted utility workers have learned about the laundromat at well.

“We take care of the laundry for the utility guys, so we’re getting an influx from them too,” Doherty said. “When something like this storm happens, they’re coming into the area and staying at a local hotel. They’ll drop their laundry here at the end of their shift, and we clean it for them.

“Then they’ll come back at 5:30 or 6 in the morning, before they begin their shift, and we’ll have it all ready for them,” Doherty said.

Outside the laundromat Sunday afternoon, Patty and Anthony Prestera were among those waiting for a few open machines. The Sandy Hook residents were lucky, finding a bench in the shade just outside the laundromat’s door. Both took it in stride when told they would need to wait to get their laundry started.

“What are we going to do?” Mr Prestera said. “It’s hot at home. The air isn’t moving inside the house. We’re not in a rush.”

Nodding across the parking lot toward Cover Two Sports Café, which was also doing a very brisk business Sunday afternoon, he said the restaurant would be the next stop once the couple started their laundry.

“We’ll probably head over there, grab a few beers and some lunch,” he said. “Can’t do anything about the power, so it’s not worth getting upset over. Might as well make the best of it.”

PJ's Laundromat Owner Sharon Doherty stands in front of the bank of dryers inside her Sandy Hook Center business. Business has been very brisk, she said, since Thursday, when many people realized they would not be getting electricity back as quickly as they hoped. —Bee Photos, Hicks
PJ's Laundromat employees Joush Newsome and Michelle Damico fold laundry for customers who opted to drop off their laundry. The town's one laundromat, PJ's has had a definite uptick in business since Thursday, its owner said.
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