Patience wearing thin after week without power in NJ
TRENTON — The first storm brought powerful gusts. The second brought heavy wet snow. Both toppled countless trees and utility poles that left hundreds of thousands of homes without power — some for as long as a week now.
Restoring service to the 18,000 customers who already had been without power days before Wednesday's storm is the first priority of JCP&L. The utility will then tackle those who lost power during this week's nor'easter.
In the meantime, nerves are fraying and lawmakers are grumbling.
On Thursday afternoon, JCP&L still had 99,200 customers without power while PSE&G had 49,000 still in the dark — both showing dramatic drops from the day before.
Gov. Phil Murphy, in his first test as the new governor, said he would call on state regulators to examine how the state's utility companies prepared and responded to the outages.
The announcement followed criticism of the Democratic administration by Republicans who represent some of the hardest-hit communities in rural and suburban New Jersey.
Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, on Thursday called on Murphy to mobilize the National Guard to assist towns with recovery efforts. Murphy's state of emergency declaration on Tuesday already allows for the Office of Emergency Management to call on the Guard if needed.
Lebanon Township Mayor Mike Schmidt told New Jersey 101.5 that his 32-square mile Hunterdon County community suffered a setback Wednesday when more fallen trees caused about 60 percent of residents to lose their power again.
"The good news is that the JCP&L crews are here. They're working and we're moving forward. I am glad we're getting resources, I can't really find any fault in the work. I understand it's a very complex rebuilding project going on," Schmidt said.
Schmidt speaks to a representative of the utility every day and said he finds them responsive.
The township is very hilly with many small fields and spread-out residential plots. The mayor said residents understand that living in a rural township "out on the edges" of the Highland Preservation Zone comes with a price when bad storms hit.
"We have to be self-sufficient and resilient. They like the open space, the trees and the woods, although I don't think anyone expects six days without a good answer as to when (the power) will be back on," Schmidt said.
Irene Rainier is one customer frustrated by the lack of information, namely knowing when her power will get restored.
"Tuesday evening there were utility trucks down the road replacing a downed pole and transformer. They finished that job but left the cable wires down, which in turn got covered with snow later that evening. Evidently, the poles were JCP&L; the wires are Verizon. They don't work together," she said.
JCP&L's restoration process involves starting at the substation and working out to the end of the circuit, where spokesman Chris Eck admitted that those located the farthest out may not have seen a truck yet.
"There could be 100 places where their line is broken between the substation and their residence or business," he said. "All of those locations have to be visited and fixed before we can restore service to them."
Jenni Tyler, who contacted New Jersey 101.5 after her power had been out for five days, said she was restored on Wednesday as the new nor'easter was getting started. But her conversation with a linesman from Georgia brought up another issue: the age of the utility poles.
"The wires and parts they need to fix it with doesn't exist anymore because this stuff is from the 40s," Tyler said.
Schmidt thinks there needs to be a discussion after this to make sure resources are in place to handle the next storm, a sentiment shared by state Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, and Murphy.
During Murphy's appearance at the JCP&L staging center at the Sussex County Fairgrounds on Thursday, Oroho told the New Jersey Herald that officials have to make sure resources are available in the future.
Murphy on Thursday later said he asked the BPU to conduct a full investigation into the response to the storms.
“We are going to examine what went wrong, and whether the plans for protecting and strengthening our grid devised post-Sandy have been followed statewide," Murphy said. "We will look to see if all preparedness measures were taken before last Friday, knowing a major event was coming. If they have not been, that is entirely inexcusable."
Assemblyman Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon, whose district was hit hard by outages, said he welcomes Murphy's BPU announcement.
“We appreciate the governor visiting Sussex county today to see for himself the extensive storm damage," he said Thursday. "Had he visited sooner, he would have had a better understanding of the seriousness of the problems we’ve been enduring in North Jersey.
“These prolonged outages have become the norm following severe storms. While very inconvenient, they also create a health crisis. When people don’t have electricity, they don’t have water or septic. It’s one thing to deal with the cold, but without water or septic houses become uninhabitable."