Rye City officials shared their frustration with Con Edison’s recovery response to Hurricane Sandy with the public at the city council meeting last Thursday. By Sunday night, Con Edison had restored power to all but a few households in Rye. Many residents suffered between 10 to 14 days without electricity.
Con Edison was not sharing information, would not show the city a copy of the power gird citing national security measures, and has centralized all of its decision making without including local municipalities in Rye and across Westchester County, Mayor Douglas French said at the meeting. The city council passed a resolution that calls on the governor and county executive to address the Con Ed “deficiencies” and to direct Con Edison to work with the city manager to restore power immediately. Read the full resolution in the PDF attached to this article.
Sara Banda, a Con Edison media representative, said communication has been fluid in the last two weeks. Con Edison has been communicating with municipalities every day and keeping city officials informed of their work, Banda said. “There has been a constant flow of information,” she said.
But French, city manager Scott Pickup and other officials strongly disagreed. French said that Con Ed has given its own liaison who has been working out of the city’s emergency operation center little useful information. He and Pickup went into the field to acquire information the Con Ed liaison could not, he said.
“Your request is denied,” was Con Edison’s response to many of the city’s requests French said with frustration.
“Coming out of this there has to be a lot of change at Con Ed and with their management,” French said.
Banda said Con Ed was communicating with municipalities every day on two conference calls. The morning call allows local officials to ask questions and share concerns and Con Ed informs each municipality the number of crews and equipment.
“A second call is held daily in the early afternoon with each municipality to discuss specifics such as critical locations and closed roadways,” Banda said. “All municipalities are invited to share their issues and concerns on this call with Con Edison's local Public Affairs staff and our Emergency Management team. Communication continues throughout the day via individual calls and via email.”
According to the Mayor, Con Ed denied the city officials request to have crews working 24 hours a day under city provided lights and their request to have a Con Edison representative available to the public to provide information, French said.
Banda said that crews are working 24 hours a day in all 39 Westchester municipalities. Banda did not respond to why the request for a Con Ed representative available to the public was denied. She noted the liaison that works with local officials, but not directly with the public. When asked why sharing the grid with city officials posed a national security risk, Banda said that “since 9/11 utilities across the country have minimized detailed infrastructure exposure.”
French and city council members also shared some of the public’s anger over the Con Ed Playland staging area Con Ed has set up in Rye.
“I live off Playland Parkway and when I saw the convoy leaving out of town I wanted to throw up because I didn’t see one truck that stuck around to help us,” city councilwoman Catherine Parker said.
“We have five crews in town,” French said explaining that Rye had more Con Ed assistance than other communities. “We talked to Scarsdale, Bedford and other communities and they had no crews at all.”
Councilman Joe Sack proposed barricading the streets from Con Edison until it restores all power to the city. Residents in the audience said they liked the idea but city manager Scott Pickup explained that trying to use leverage would not work.
Con Ed has denied information requests from the county and the state, Pickup said.
“I don’t think they have that information. I think they are making it up every night they sit down and figure out the morning’s dispatches.”
Some residents said they barely see any Con Ed trucks, but when they do they arrive with workers who are not trained to repair their type of wires or with the wrong equipment.
“Each morning our crews go out with the appropriate equipment needed for their assigned jobs. This is a fluid situation and the extent of the damage is such that our crews may have to use equipment at other locations,” Banda said when asked why this would happen or what is being done to prevent it.
At the City Council meeting, Pickup also explained that Con Ed restores power according to power “loops” in the city. Once they think power has been restored an automated system calls homeowners in that loop saying, “you have power.” Several audience members said they got the call but did not have power and called back only to be further frustrated by the representative on the other end of the call.
Officials told the public to report the outage.
The public’s frustration was clear and city council members were very empathetic. Several elected officials said they had only just gotten their power restored in recent days. All agreed to put pressure on state representatives to change the way Con Edison has been communicating and handling the aftermath of this storm. The resolution specifically mentions Con Edison website inaccuracies; Con Ed’s denial of specific city requests and the power company’s use of Rye’s Playland and city roads and personnel for its staging area.
“We completely understand their frustration, and we appreciate how difficult it is to remain patient,” Banda said. “This has been an incredible ordeal for them, and we are working as quickly and as safely as we possibly can to get them back in service,” Banda said. “Con Ed has pulled in an unprecedented amount of resources and is working 24-7 with more than 3,000 mutual aid and contractor workers from as far away as California,” she said.
Mayor French said that he understood the massive outages that Con Ed was dealing with and that restoration takes time, but that his biggest concern was the lack of information and denial of many city requests. Now that power is restored in Rye, city officials will put pressure on state representatives to ensure that this situation does not happen again.