Assemblyman John F. McKeon unveiled a package of bills to ramp up utility infrastructure at a news conference on Tuesday at the Department of Public Works (DPW) facility in South Orange.
Village President Alex Torpey and DPW Director Tom Michetti introduced McKeon. "It's no accident that we're in South Orange for this annoucement," said Torpey. He explained that in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, a live wire fell across the facility's driveway, trapping DPW staff in the building.
McKeon's proposed legislation is twofold, he explained. First, said McKeon, he proposes that the state establish requirements for newly-installed and replacement electric utility poles and transmission towers. The new poles are a higher grade, which means they are stronger and able to withstand greater wind speeds.
Second, said McKeon, he would direct the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to feasibility of adopting requirements for installation of new and replacement electric utility poles and transmission towers. McKeon said he's still waiting to find out how some of PSE&G's recovery estimates were generated.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey spoke in support of the proposed legislation. In addition, elected officials from communities including East Hanover, Millburn, South Orange, Maplewood, and Madison were in attendance. In addition, South Orange Police Chief James Chelel, West Orange Fire Chief Peter F. Smeraldo, Jr., South Orange trustee Howard Levison, and Maplewood town council member Marlon Brownlee attended.
“While New Jersey was reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the worst storm to batter the mid-Atlantic and ravage the East Coast in recent history, and which knocked out power from more than 8.5 million homes and businesses, many lessons were learned on how to improve safety in future disasters. We were also made increasingly aware of the countless hidden dangers faced by our brave utility line personnel and first responders tasked with rescue and relief operations," McKeon said.
“As we worked collectively with area mayors, emergency management officials and representatives of utilities on joint efforts to assist storm ravaged constituents, we were able to identify and craft legislation to strengthen safety in utility infrastructure and mitigate future damage statewide. The bills we will unveil on Tuesday are also intended to minimize the danger to our brave utility line personnel and emergency first responders who perform the highest possible public service by putting themselves in harms way to save others,” McKeon added.
Madison Mayor Robert H. Conley spoke of the "Madison miracle." Madison, he explained owns its utility and was able to respond to crisis quickly. "We are prepared for the rain," he said, "because of the work we do on sunny days. That's what is happening here, with all of us assembled."