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Public praises Weston’s response to Superstorm Sandy

Chris Byron was not pleased with Cablevision’s response to Sandy, especially given how many people depend on cable for their phone and Internet service. —Margaret Wirtenberg photo

Weston town officials and volunteers received high praise from the public for their response to Superstorm Sandy.

While it was originally intended as a meeting about budget issues, Sandy was still on people’s minds and a main topic of conversation at the League of Women Voters’ Town Affairs Update meeting held last Saturday, Nov. 10.

The league invited First Selectman Gayle Weinstein, Superintendent Colleen Palmer, Jerry Sargent, finance board chairman, and Ken Edgar, co-chairman of the Charter Revision Commission — who also happens to be chairman of the volunteer Weston Community Service Coalition — to talk about their recent and upcoming activities and how those can be expected to affect the 2013-12 budget process. [See story on Page One]

While they did just that, and while residents did have questions and comments about the budget, the storm was also of primary interest.

Storm response

“What the town went through the last few weeks was really grace under pressure,” said Mr. Sargent, chairman of the finance board.

It was a sentiment shared by  nearly all of the dozen or so people who spoke at the Town Affairs meeting.

“Everyone was doing more than they were supposed to do… I would not condemn anyone,” said long-time resident Don Saltzman, who is also a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Mr. Saltzman joked his “only complaint” was the comfort station at the high school, offered by the town and staffed by scores of volunteers, didn’t have co-ed showers.

But he was serious and sincere in his praise and gratitude for “Gayle and Company”  acknowledging their efforts to help the townspeople through a week-long power outage while rallying CL&P to act as quickly as possible.

He was impressed with the large CL&P fleet that arrived in town. “It was a revelation to see that we got fixed as fast as possible,” Mr. Saltzman said.

“The response of the town in this crisis was really extraordinary,” said Chris Byron, who told how the police department and the Community Volunteer Coalition — a group he hadn’t known about before — helped him make sure several at-risk neighbors were safe after the storm. “I was extremely impressed,” he said.

Ms. Weinstein acknowledged that town officials could not have done what they did without the help of so many volunteers.

There were 103 people who manned the comfort station at Weston High School over the course of eight days. “That’s just fantastic. Can you believe that?” Ms. Weinstein said.

In addition, Mr. Edgar said the community coalition organized 130 “neighborhood captains,” who helped give and get information to and from residents.

“They can’t turn on the electricity, but they can help with communication,” he said, adding the coalition is still looking for about 60 more captains.

Mr. Edgar said the help from townspeople made a big difference in the level of service Westonites were able to receive. “We can’t expect a small amount of town employees to cover it all,” he said.

Ms. Weinstein and Mr. Edgar both praised Neil Horner who coordinated the comfort station, and thanked the superintendent for opening the schools for town use so readily.

Superintendent Palmer said, “It’s been such a pleasure to have such a strong partnership with the town… We look at all the buildings as town resources… It worked out well.”

Mr. Horner said more than 2,000 people came through the comfort station and he thanked town leaders for offering it. “You’re the heroes,” he said.

Resident Harvey Bellin acknowledged the hard work and cooperation of the town’s emergency operations team. He called the preparation that happened before the storm “brilliant.”

To those who complained in the storm’s aftermath that the town wasn’t helping enough, “I say, to hell with you,” Mr. Bellin said.

Suggestions

Aside from Mr. Saltzman’s tongue-in-cheek co-ed shower suggestion, several ideas were voiced at the meeting.

Mr. Byron asked town officials to “call Cablevision on the carpet” for it’s slow storm response. Lack of cable affected not just television watching, he pointed out, but Internet access and phone service for many who live in town and “bundle” their utility services.

“They should be more responsive to these kinds of things,” Mr. Byron said.

Ms. Weinstein suggested residents keep a land line that is not dependent on cable service or cell service, both of which need electricity to operate properly.

She said municipalities discovered that cable had not been included in a lot of the pre-planning for the storm, so there was difficulty contacting the right people afterward. “They should be part of the process going forward,” she said.

On the subject of phone, Susan Moch said she realized she had signed up her home phone for the town’s CodeRed alerts, but then her phone service went down. She suggested people sign up their cell phone numbers, too.

Lucy Bowden suggested forming a stronger relationship with some local radio stations, since that is where she got much of her information when the power, cable and Internet  was out.

Mr. Saltzman said he has kept an old-fashioned TV antenna on his roof — and he was able to get New York stations on his TV when cable service was down.

Bob Rowland asked why power lines are not underground, considering the mayhem that ensues when lines are knocked down.

Ms. Weinstein said she recently heard an update from CL&P on a project to bury 1.5 miles of power lines in Stamford. The cost? More than $46 million.

Because it is so cost prohibitive, Ms. Weinstein said she believes the town would be better served looking at ways both private homes and municipal buildings might “get ourselves off the grid a bit,” using, for example, more solar panels and green technology.

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