FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – A task force appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy after Hurricane Irene stormed into Connecticut in August was already studying how the state can better prepare for dangerous weather events when Saturday's storm hit. Now the panel has even more work to do.
Malloy on Wednesday instructed the S.T.O.R.M panel, co-chaired by Joseph McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County in Stamford, to expand its review and recommendations to include ways to better prepare for and respond to ice and snowstorms such as this past weekend's historic nor'easter.
The storm, which knocked out power to more than 900,000 households in Connecticut – the most ever in the state, resulted in both Malloy and President Barack Obama declaring a state of emergency. More than 400,000 Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating customers were still without power Wednesday afternoon, and some will be in the cold and dark until Sunday.
"The governor's office called today [Wednesday] and asked our panel to expand our study to include an in-depth look at ice and snow storms, that as we have witnessed this past week can be even more devastating to utility lines and trees than a hurricane," said McGee. "In particular, he wants us to look at how the utility companies can restore power faster."
Restoring power is even more urgent during a winter storm. "In the winter you are looking at people being without heat, and going a week without power is completely unacceptable," said McGee, echoing the governor's comments.
Malloy indicated he was "disappointed" that out-of-state work crews have not responded faster, leaving more Connecticut residents without power than all of the states impacted by the storm combined.
"Looking at how we can get faster mutual assistance is one of the most important issues we plan to address," said McGee. "Another is tree-trimming. We love our trees in Connecticut, but as these two storms have shown – we must improve standards so that so many trees are not falling and crashing into power lines." McGee said the storms' "one-two punch is a big wake-up call."
"Clearly, this was extraordinary, having such a devastating winter storm so early and just two months after Irene," said McGee. "These were two of the worst storms we've had in our history concerning their impact on power outages, and we need to understand how to hold the utilities more accountable."
The power companies indicated they are doing the best they can to restore power. "Our goal remains to restore the vast majority of customers by Sunday," said Jeff Butler, CL&P's president and chief operating officer. "We continue to ask for and receive help from out-of-state crews and contractors as our crew counts grow daily. We understand how frustrating it is to be without power and are working as quickly and safely as possible."
But McGee questioned why it is taking the outside work crews so long to arrive. "The governor wants our panel to investigate why the mutual assistance work crews for CL&P are not responding in a much more urgent manner."
McGee said a report with recommendations will be submitted to Malloy in early or mid-December.