Towns give JCP&L storm wish list

Resolution to be adopted by governing bodies asks for improved response

Staff Writer

A capital plan for infrastructure upgrades and on-site support for municipalities during power outages are among the improvements locals mayors are asking Jersey Central Power & Light to adopt in response to severe weather events.

Drawn up as a resolution to be voted on by each town’s governing body, local officials are collectively recommending the top ten ways JCP&L can improve the level of service to municipalities and customers during emergencies like superstorm Sandy and the Nov. 7 nor’easter.

“I hope this sends a strong message that the mayors of Monmouth County and the hundreds of thousands of residents that they represent will be heard loud and clear, and action is taken,” Tinton Falls Mayor Michael Skudera said in a Dec. 1 email.

“This resolution lists constructive and proactive ways for the management of JCP&L to improve their overall level of service to the residents and municipalities that they serve.”

The resolution is a result of a Nov. 19 Snow Summit co-hosted by Skudera and Middletown Mayor Anthony Fiore, which was attended by representatives of 26 county towns.

The top-ten list of improvements includes regional conference calls between JCP&L and local officials; a Web-based process for municipalities to request JCP&L prioritize critical areas like hospitals and areas with recurring outages, request relocation of substations in flood zones, and identify areas that frequently lose power.

Also, officials want the utility to provide information on local power grids, including locations and transmission lines; to adopt a proactive tree-trimming approach; and to have the ability to work directly with crews working in their towns.

“We hope that JCP&L recognizes and realizes what they can do to help municipalities better communicate to residents and their customers by adhering to some of these action steps,” Fiore said in an interview on Dec. 3.

“I think that will go a long way in mak- ing restoration much more seamless and effective.” Fiore noted the proposals were drafted with input by officials from more than 20 county municipalities. JCP&L has more than 250,000 customers in the county.

“This is not one mayor or two mayors coming together,” he said. “This is a collaboration of 20-plus municipalities in Monmouth County who have been through this multiple times. “I know we represent a large number of their customer base and it is my hope they meet with some of us and take our recommendations seriously.”

The recommendations also call for improved communication between various utility companies including Verizon and N.J. Natural Gas, and enhanced communication with the public including a call center and Internet upgrades.

Skudera said the list is being forwarded to every Monmouth County municipality, as well as the Board of Chosen Freeholders, the state Senate and Assembly, the Office of the Governor, and the Board of Public Utilities (BPU).

Shrewsbury Borough Mayor Donald Burden said in a Dec. 3 interview that he expects the mayors to meet with JCP&L about the list.

“One of the things we looked at is not trying to do everything as an individual community, but make one voice for the issues we all agree upon,” he said. “We hope that they’ll invite either all of us or a select group to have a chance to sit down and go over the ideas and see what the realities might be in accomplishing some of these items.”

JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano said on Dec. 3 that the company will continue to work to improve communications.

“JCP&L reviews every storm event for lessons learned and improvements that can be made,” he said. “We implemented several new practices following [Tropical Storm] Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm.”

Morano previously said JCP&L has used social media tools to give residents up-to-date information regarding outages.

One of the harshest critics of JCP&L’s performance after the Oct. 29 superstorm is Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider.

“Give us your best [estimate] on what the damage is, because how long do we have to keep feeding people and providing shelter and doing all this work,” he said.

“I can deal with bad news, but I can’t deal with lack of information.”

According to Schneider, city officials met with a JCP&L representative but weren’t given sufficient information on when power would be restored.

“I was furious; I told him I don’t want to meet with you again, I don’t want another intermediary,” he said.

“You tell the president of the company to pick up the phone and call me.

“I’m the mayor of the city. He’s got 40,000 ratepayers without power; let him pick up the phone and tell me what’s going on,” he added.

“My main focus at the moment is, if they really want a different relationship with the various towns, they have to put some effort into it,” he added. “I don’t really see that’s what they want, but I hope I’m wrong.”

Responding to Schneider’s comments, Morano defended the utility’s response to the storm.

“There is a process in place and that process is being coordinated through the [BPU] and there will be hearings to further enable that feedback,” he said.

“We have detailed on many occasions just how severe Hurricane

Sandy was and the incredible amount of damage that our system sustained and the amount of work that was needed to restore the service.”

Skudera said while there were issues with JCP&L, that doesn’t diminish the work done by the crews following the storm.

“Mayor Fiore and I fully recognize the hard work by the lineman, forestry crews, and other dedicated personnel from both JCP&L and the many out-of-state crews that spend time away from their families to come to the aid of the residents of

New Jersey during Sandy and the nor’easter,” he said.

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