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Frustration Mounts In Stonington

by Hugh McQuaid | Oct 31, 2012 5:01pm
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Posted to: Weather

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek, Gov. Dannel Malloy, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal

STONINGTON — Hurricane Sandy has been over fewer than two days, but in Stonington, a coastal town where nearly everyone lost power, residents and officials are already frustrated by a lack of communication and resources from their electricity supplier.

Stonington is home to about 18,000 people and on Wednesday morning around 95 percent of them were without electricity. First Selectman Edward Haberek Jr. said he expressed frustration Tuesday with Connecticut Light and Power on a conference call with the governor over the lack of resources the utility has devoted to his town.

“We basically yesterday got one crew. There were 40 crews yesterday that were dispersed in New London County and out of those 40 crews we got one tree and utility crew. To us, that was unacceptable,” Haberek said after a visit from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday.

Haberek said he received a call from the president of CL&P, who told him more crews would be dispatched to his town.

“I’m awaiting those crews and look forward to utilizing them,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Blocked off road in Stonington

For the time being, Stonington is difficult to travel by vehicle. Downed trees and power lines have forced road closures requiring frequent detours. Municipal road crews can be seen making their way around different areas of town in a convoy of large red trucks.

Many residents were outside Wednesday in the town’s shoreline village borough, jogging around fallen trees and walking dogs by darkened shops. Haberek said the area saw sustained hurricane-force winds and heavy flooding. Walking down one street, he stopped to show reporters where the raised water level darkened the paint on a store wall.

Although they lost power, one store has been able to remain open in the village. Tom’s News & General Store has been running on a small generator. People come in and out, buying coffee and newspapers.

“Tom’s has been kind of like the mayor’s office almost,” Haberek joked.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Joan Mitchell at Tom’s General Store

Inside, Joan Mitchell was working as the shop’s clerk. She said residents have been using the shop as a place to charge their cellphone’s while their power is out at home.

On his way into the store, Howard Taylor stopped to ask if anyone had heard predictions from CL&P regarding when the power would be restored. The fact that no one had was frustrating to Taylor, but he took some comfort from the Malloy’s visit.

“We get forgotten here. It’s good the governor came down,” he said. “I think Connecticut forgets it has a coastline.”

Taylor said he lived nearby and was asked to evacuate during the storm. He and his family decided to stay. A friend who was staying at his home did, at one point, try to leave and make his way to a Holiday Inn.

“He came back a half an hour later . . . Stonington was an island,” he said.

Haberek said many of his residents have grown frustrated by the frequency at which the town gets punished by weather. Irene hit the town hard last year, it saw flooding in 2010, and it was impacted by a smaller tropical storm in 2009.

“Residents have gotten really devastated multiple times now. So you have a number of people who have rebuilt and then the next year they’re back in the same state again. So it’s really very frustrating to deal with that,” he said.

Haberek said the storm’s impact was worse than last year’s Hurricane Irene. He said the town experienced some “complete destruction” to utility poles.

“We had two poles that fell right in front of the fire house. Our fire department couldn’t get out, we had to use a lot of mutual aid. So we had to relocate a whole firehouse,” Haberek said. “. . . The wheels were off the bus.”

Stonington may face other logistical problems. The generator at the Mystic Sewer plant, which serves the town, went down. Haberek said CL&P and the National Guard are in the process of trying to get another generator for the plant. So far the plant hasn’t released any sewage into the river.

“We’re just backing it up in the sewer,” Haberek said. “We’re probably hours away from having backflow to the toilets.”

Malloy, who’s spent the past two days touring damaged areas throughout the state, said he expected to see things improve in Stonington soon. Although there’s been progress throughout the state since the hurricane passed, he said it’s tough when residents can’t see it in their own community.

“Listen if your power’s not on or your city’s not on, there’s not enough progress. We certainly understand that. Having said that, we’re seeing some drops in the number” of outages, Malloy said.

Sen. Andrew Maynard, a Democrat from Stonington, said, like most of his neighbors, he’s still in the dark. But given the magnitude of the storm that shouldn’t be surprising, he said.

“It would be unreasonable to expect it to be done by now,” Maynard said, but added that more communication from the utility would help residents.

“Information allays concerns,” he said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Fallen tree in the center of Stonington

Frank Poirot, a spokesman for CL&P, said the company is always looking for ways to improve its communications with residents and officials. When the restoration effort is complete, he said it will be part of an ongoing dialogue aimed at doing a better job keeping people up to date.

For the time being, he said people should know the company has been sending a lot of resources to that part of the state. It’s set up a massive operation at the Waterford Speedbowl to put the tree and line crews closer to the damages, Poirot said.

“We want to support them with a restoration that’s every bit as robust as they would expect,” he said. “If the outages are concentrated in an area, our crews are concentrated there.”

While Stonington residents are out of power, Poirot said they should exercise care if they are setting up generators. A professional electrician should be called to wire the generators into houses to avoid backfeeding previously dormant power lines.


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