Storm damage knocks out town power

Heavy rains and wind knocked thousands of residents without power Sunday night, but the heaviest impact was felt Monday morning as a falling tree hit a critical transmission line and left virtually the entire town of Greenwich without power.

According to Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), a tree initially damaged in the Sunday storm fell Monday at approximately 10 a.m., taking down a major transmission line. At its peak, 27,603 customers were without power Monday morning, representing approximately 98% of the entire town. This caused First Selectman Peter Tesei to declare a state of emergency for Greenwich, which was then lifted Monday night once power was restored to most residents.

A crane had to be brought in to lift the 85-foot tree off the transmission line and once that happened repairs began in earnest. CL&P said publicly throughout the day that power would be restored by 8 p.m. and it was able to make that goal for residents impacted by the damaged transmission line.


In addition to the power outage, which caused Town Hall and many local businesses to close up for the day, the damage occurred close to the railroad tracks. Debris was on the tracks, leaving Metro-North to have to scramble and use diesel trains until mid-afternoon. That caused major headaches for commuters and there were residual delays into the evening.

Mr. Tesei was not in Greenwich during the power loss as the Sunday storm had forced him to extend a family trip out of the state longer than expected because of hazardous road conditions. However, Selectman David Theis had been designated as acting first selectman before the weekend and continued in that role on Monday, representing town government at the Emergency Operations Center. Mr. Tesei was in frequent communication and was the one who made the decision to declare the state of emergency.

In an interview with the Post on Tuesday, Mr. Tesei noted that the town was just coming off training mandated by the state for major weather-related emergencies. Greenwich participated in the program which simulated a response to a Category 3 hurricane and Mr. Tesei said that actions that occurred as part of that response, such as setting up “make safe zones” around downed wires and being able to work with the utility was part of the training.

“I think our professional staff and town workers in the field responded really well,” Mr. Tesei said. “We’ve had a lot of experience in this over the last few years and our people did a really exceptional job using the training they had been given and working with CL&P to get things back on track as quickly and as smoothly as possible.”

Mr. Tesei said that the damage from the storm itself was actually not that much, but the falling tree that took out the transmission line was “unique unto itself.” He said it was an act of “fate” and that the town had taken a risk in this case that unfortunately did not work.

CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross said that the fact that this happened makes clear that there have to be town efforts to monitor trees. The tree in this case did not fall from town property, but rather private property on Summit Road.

“That shows the need to have an aggressive tree trimming policy,” Mr. Gross said. “We talk about this all the time and it’s so important. When a huge tree like this comes down on a major transmission line you’re going to have a problem like this. It’s like what happened with last year’s snowstorms.”

When asked if he would bring this to the town’s attention, Mr. Gross replied that, “Mr. Tesei and town officials clearly understand the importance of this.”

Selectman Drew Marzullo sent a request to Mr. Tesei on Monday night, asking that a representative from CL&P come to today’s Board of Selectman meeting at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room to answer questions about its response and communications.

“Unless I am mistaken the town of Greenwich has never experienced a loss in power to this magnitude,” Mr. Marzullo said in an e-mail. “If a tree is to blame for 99.9% in total power loss then one has to ask why wasn’t this tree maintained or looked after. Special attention should have been given to the “holy grail of all tress. I have many questions for the utility company. Many questions that could probably be answered one on one but I think having CL&P come before the executive branch in public would be beneficial to all.”

Mr. Marzullo, a paramedic with Greenwich Emergency Medical Services, said both CL&P and the town had to improve communications during incidents like this.

“It makes no sense and quite frankly seems like a waste of time for the emergency management director to conduct TV interviews when no one in Greenwich has power,” Mr. Marzullo said. “We should be taking advantage of Twitter, texting, e-mail and not talking to TV and radio stations that are in the 99.9% group. It is paramount that the entire Board of Selectman be notified when decisions related to state of emergencies are made. We then can communicate accurate information to anyone who asks. Communication is the key to success.

Mr. Tesei expressed skepticism that such an appearance was necessary when asked by the Post. He said CL&P’s policies and methods are “transparent” and that he is in regular communication with the utility.

“As far as I can tell he is the only one asking these questions right now so perhaps it would be best for him to speak directly with CL&P,” Mr. Tesei said. “If he has questions for them I would be more than happy to help facilitate getting answers. I think CL&P would want to answer his questions like they would with any of their customers.”

Mr. Gross said the utility had not been asked to the selectmen’s meeting, but that the “working relationship” between the town and CL&P is clear. He said it had sent representatives to many town boards and commissions and would continue to do so if needed.

Mr. Gross said he felt the company had been able to meet its goals for restoration of service. He said the outages that were caused by the actual storm itself on Sunday had almost been completed before the tree fell on Monday and necessitated shifting priorities. And when the outage did happen on Monday, he noted that CL&P had been able to get power back on to the impacted residents by 8 p.m. just as the utility had projected.

“We set a target and we met it,” Mr. Gross said. “We knew we had to get the job completed because our customers were depending on us. This is something that impacted our customers and commuters and Metro-North riders and we were very aware of the importance of the situation. We know that every time a customer is without service it’s an important situation, but it was quite clear in this case.”


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