The town found itself in an all-too-familiar situation last week: A powerful thunderstorm blew through, downing trees and power lines, leaving many roads impassible and nearly 800 Weston customers without electricity — for way too long, said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein.
“I had a conversation with the state attorney general’s office this week about suing CL&P for gross negligence and discrimination,” First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said.
Attorney General George Jepsen told Ms. Weinstein that because CL&P is a regulated agency, a lawsuit would be very difficult if not impossible, she said. However, she is working with the assistant attorney general to file a formal complaint against the power company with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).
Ms. Weinstein’s main complaint is that CL&P does not seem to be following the “make safe” protocols that were put in place after major extended power outages gripped the state following storms in August and October 2011.
Ms. Weinstein said while extended electrical outages are troublesome, her primary concern is addressing dangerous or potentially dangerous situations. “Make safe operations should always come first,” she said.
But that was not what happened last week, she said.
There was a wire on fire on Godfrey Road for four hours on the night of Sept. 18. Fire Department and road crews are not allowed to handle live wires until licensed utility workers first disconnect the power; Weston was told there were no crews available to do so, Ms. Weinstein said.
“That’s just unacceptable,” she said.
As early as 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, the National Weather Service issued a high wind advisory and hazardous weather outlook for Weston and all of Fairfield County.
By 4 p.m., that was upgraded to a tornado watch, as the storm was increasing in intensity as it moved northeast.
The first of the storm hit town at about 6 p.m. Ms. Weinstein said at that time, Weston Police Officer Joe Miceli contacted the town’s CL&P liaison and Ms. Weinstein spoke to the town’s account executive at CL&P. She was told then that only one crew was available and that it would probably not be in town until sometime between 8 and midnight.
Power started going out at about 8 p.m. By 9, 689 customers — 18% of CL&P customers in Weston — were without power.
The communications tower at the landfill on Godfrey Road East was also affected, Ms. Weinstein said, one of the most troublesome situations she encountered.
“That’s one of just two priority areas in town,” the other being the school and town hall complex, and even that wasn’t addressed in a timely manner, she said.
In addition, the storm brought heavy rains, almost like flash flooding. The water, combined with high winds that brought down tree branches and live power lines, closed portions of Old Redding Road, Goodhill Road up to Steep Hill Road and Godfrey Road West at Newtown Turnpike.
Ms. Weinstein said she was originally told power would be back on at Godfrey Road by midnight. Then, that changed to no crews available, then just one truck that could stay and try to restore power overnight.
At 6 a.m. on Wednesday, Ms. Weinstein learned there were still hundreds without power and about a dozen roads were still blocked because town crews couldn’t get to them due to live wires. There was even a wire across Norfield Road near town hall for most of Wednesday.
It turned out no utility workers had been in town between 4 and 9 a.m., she said. “It’s one thing if they are doing what they can, but there was no one even in town.”
While many parts of the state were affected by the storm, Weston had among the highest percentage — up to 20% or about 783 houses at 8 a.m. Wednesday — of customers without power during the storm. More than 18,000 customers statewide lost power.
But it is not so much the lack of power to houses that still troubles Ms. Weinstein; it’s the unsafe road conditions that could only be addressed by utility workers — and that weren’t.
Ms. Weinstein said she understands the frustration of residents and she wants to do what she can to try to get CL&P to improve its response to situations like these. That is why she is pursuing either suing or filing a formal complaint against the power company.
“As a first selectman, I can’t get the power back, but I do have a responsibility to the residents of this town… If I’m not going to stand up to [CL&P], who will?” she said.