AREA OFFICIALS ZAP JCP&L OVER STORM FIXES

Howell Mayor Robert Walsh addresses attendees at Monday’s ‘Snow Summit’ to discuss JCP&L’s response to Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

Confusion, anger and frustration, tinged by a bit of hope, permeated the Tinton Falls Municipal Building early Monday afternoon at the third annual ‘Snow Summit’ called to address the region’s relationship with JCP&L and how to improve it.

Co-hosted by Tinton Falls Mayor Michael Skudera and Middletown Mayor Anthony Fiore, the meeting was attended by mayors from across Monmouth County, freeholders, state legislators, as well as members of the media and public. Few were impressed by the electric utility’s handling

“If they gave a damn, they would have already done something about” their outreach to localities following catastrophes, Mayor Adam Schneider of Long Branch said of company officials. “I’ve been in office 22 years, and I’ve heard them make promises that they never keep,” Schneider said. “I think we need some anger and venting, because at the end of the day, does JCP&L care about us? They’re still getting a paycheck in Ohio [where parent company First Energy is based] whether we have power or not, so why would they care?”

The main goal of the meeting, according to Skudera, was to create a concrete top-ten list that local leaders could present to JCP&L officials as well as Governor Chris Christie in an effort to improve relations between the power company and the communities it serves.

Skudera and Fiore began the meeting by giving a presentations on how their respective towns’ responded and prepared for the storm and subsequent northeaster.

Both noted the usefulness of automated alert systems, as well as the efforts by local Office of Emergency Management workers, with Skudera specifically zeroing in on the positive impact of having all responsible parties on hand and in the same room when decisions were being made. Having JCP&L reps present as well would have been beneficial, both in terms of gathering information and reporting back to the power company, he said.

Skudera and Fiore also expressed concern over the lack of knowledge by the power company as to when and where resident’s lost and gained power, as well as its failure to communicate about the condition of the grid and substations pertinent to each community.

“The fact that our residents needed to call in and report power losses themselves is ridiculous, and JCP&L needs to find a better, more modern system,” Fiore said. “Our offices received over 40,000 calls regarding power that we couldn’t answer, because even we didn’t have the needed information.”

Conference calls initiated by JCP&L officials in an effort to inform the local officials needed to be more regionalized, they agreed. Local officials from opposite ends of the state were on the same calls, causing a disconnect in information and a conflict as to who received attention from the power company’s officials, they said.

In addition to communication gaps between the power company and the communities, problems arose when JCP&L and Verizon needed to determine which poles and lines belonged to whom.

“We had some utility poles that remained down for days, simply because Verizon and JCP&L workers couldn’t communicate with each other and figure out who it belonged to.” Fiore said.

After the presentations, the floor was open for other local leaders to voice their concerns over JCP&L’s response to the abounding blackouts, and needless to say many in attendance weren’t impressed.

While Long Branch’s Schneider was the most outspoken critic, no one who spoke up had any positive things to say about JCP&L’s handling of the situation.

“It’s time JCP&L moves into the 21st century,” said Colts Neck Mayor Jarrett Engel, “How do we not have lines underground now to avoid all these problems?”

Engel went on to describe how quick and efficient reps from Alabama Power had been in his borough, fixing problems in mere minutes that JCP&L had yet to address weeks after the storm hit, and working on the ground with members of his community.

“We did in fact have direct, very clear communications with a power company, unfortunately it wasn’t our provider, it was Alabama Power.” he added.

Though a laundry list of problems was aired, Fiore and Skudera reiterated their concern that the summit and subsequent, closed-door meeting of mayors and emergency/town officials not turn into a “gripe session.”

“Our main goal here is to come together, as a group, and present a viable list of about ten, concrete, reasonable solutions that we believe will help us further our relationship with JCP&L in the right way,” Skudera told rebankgreen before the round table meeting. “It’s obvious we need more than the minor improvements given after to us after Hurricane Irene, and hopefully if we stand together, united as neighbors, we can help our legislators get something done.”

It was not immediately clear if anyone in the audience was there to represent Red Bank, Fair Haven, Little Silver, Rumson and Sea Bright. No JCP&L officials made their presence known.