Township to Call for State Investigation into JCP&L's Response in Wake of Irene
Power Company's lack of preparation, communication and coordination have frustrated township officials; power finally returns to some parts of town.
Updated: 5:56 p.m., 10:45 p.m.
updated Sept. 3, 10:30 a.m. to add information from Governor Christie.
Millburn township officials are so frustrated by its dealings, or lack thereof, with Jersey Central Power & Light, that they plan to request a full state investigation into the company's "gross mismanagement and lack of communication and coordination efforts to restore power during Hurricane Irene."
In a second letter sent on Friday by Mayor Sandy Haimoff to the President and CEO of the power company, Anthony Alexander, she vented and outlined the township's frustration with the company.
Assistant Business Administrator Alexander McDonald said the township hopes to "spur public hearings on the matter to avoid this situation in the future."
"It's been extremely frustrating for all of the township committee members," McDonald said. "They've not reached out to us at all. It's been us chasing them down to get information."
JCP&L officials could not be reached for comment Friday. But the power company's workers have finally made it to the area, with crews from as faraway as Ohio and even Colorado, and while Mayor Haimoff says she appreciates that with hundreds of thousands of customers without power during the last week, the company's resources were stretched thin, but that does not excuse its "lack of basic courtesy in advising local elected officials with adequate information to give their residents."
The mayor's other grievances are:
- The company's inability to tell the township exactly where all the power outages are or let the township remove trees from lines after they've been "de-energized"
- The fact that there has been no liaison for Millburn, or even Essex County Emergency Operations.
- That automated phone calls sent to customers ask those what still do not have power to call back or press "2," when some with no power cannot hear the message, let alone follow the instructions.
- That there was no pre-storm planning for the aftermath, other than faxes with phone numbers to call in case of a power outage.
In light of all that, the mayor concludes that the company does not view Millburn government as important enough for personalized attention from the company and that is is "far easier for local government personally to be completely 'the the dark' on your power restoration efforts and to experience the wrath of its residents, for the lack of answer, than to have your customer service representatives available to service the public," Haimoff wrote to the head of the parent company, First Enegry Corporation.
Haimoff warned the company in her letter that the township will be requesting a full investigation by the Governor and the Board of Public Utilities.
According to the power outage map on the company's website, some 1,529 people are still without power and McDonald said that on Friday afternoon company officials said there should be some noticeable improvement in the next 24 hours.
"They haven't given us anything concrete as far as when everyone will be back on line. But they're in town and they're working," he said. "At least they're here. That's half the battle."
At a press conference at the beach Friday afternoon, Governor Chris Christie discussed JCP&L's job performance in Irene's aftermath, saying, "The state Board of Public Utilities is going to do a full investigation of all utilities, but I think particular attention will be focused on JCP&L."
When asked if he is doing anything now to compel JCP&L to help those still without power faster and more efficiently, the governor said, "Oh, we're all over the JCP&L folks. I told them I want this done by tonight at midnight or someone is going to have to answer for that."
Update: 5:56 p.m.: Also on Friday afternoon, Lt. Peter Eakley, spokesman for the Millburn Police Department and Office of Emergency Managment said that elected officials from several surrounding communities met in Summit and had a conference call with JCP&L's president and CEO Donald Lynch "because of the leadership of State Senator Kean, Assemblyman Bramnick, Assemblywoman Munoz."
Eakley went on to say Lynch's "information was not encouraging and appeared to be haphazard and incomplete."
"For example JCPL reported to Mayor Haimoff that there were 13 trucks operating within the Township. Police units were dispatched throughout the community and only found 7 trucks operating," Eakley said in the release. "Millburn Township shares your frustration and will be pressing for an investigation and hearings on the State level."
In a response to a letter written by Haimoffs, the Board of Public Utilities has already stated to Millburn that there will be hearings by the end of the month, Eakley said.
More and more power is being restored throughout the Township, most areas of the Glenwood section have been turned on with limited outages still in the Chatham Road area, Eakely reported. In addition, most of the Wyoming Area has also been restored. Work has begun in the South Mountain area, but JCPL officials are unsure how long the restoration will take, Eakely said.
By 9:15 p.m., power had returned to some homes in the South Mountain area, according to resident Andrew Fingerman, who credited two additional elected officials with helping the area.
"All day long I was getting calls and updates from both Assemblyman John McKeon and former Gov. Richard Codey who were pressuring JCPL on our behalf," he said. "Both deserve credit for getting involved aggressively to help us out."
According to JCP&L's website, "most of the remaining 26,000 Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) customers should be restored by Saturday, with small groups of customers in some of the areas that experienced severe flooding being restored by late Sunday."
The company's outage map at 10:45 p.m. showed that 1,020 people in Millburn and Short Hills were still without power as of Friday night.