The criticism of JCP&L in the wake of Sandy continues to pour in. Citizens from towns like Bridgewater and Wayne and Montville have started petitions to replace JCP&L with another utility. Local officials continue to demand answers and changes from JCP&L: see below for new examples, and here and here for previous criticism.
So who is Chris Christie siding with: the towns or the utility? Considering that he used to be JCP&L’s lobbyist, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s taking the side of “New Jersey’s Most Hated Company!”®
The fact is that local officlals aren’t going to like JCP&L’s (makes air quotes with fingers) “communication” unless that “commnication” is: “Your power’s on.”
I mean that’s it. I mean let’s face it we’re all selfish in that regard. And we want our power on and we want it yesterday.
And we don’t want to hear about the fact that we had a record number of substations flooded. We don’t want to hear about the sub-transmission lines that got taken down by hurricane force winds. We don’t want to hear about the fact that more trees got knocked down in this storm than in any storm in my memory and took down wires that went directly to houses and they have to fix this house by house by house.
So what I’ve said to the utility conmpanies is: “You should communicate better because if you do that takes away that excuse.“
“Takes away that excuse”? From whom? The customers? Local officials? They were looking for an “excuse” to bitch and moan about JCP&L? They don’t have real, valid complaints?
I find this incredibly patronizing, and I think most of the town officials making the complaints would agree with me. Everyone knows this was a bad storm; everyone knows there is extensive damage.
Local officials understand this as well as the governor; what they do not accept is JCP&L’s poor communication, poor organization, poor disaster preparedness planning, and poor ability to make reasonably accurate estimates of power restoration. After Irene, JCP&L said they were going to get better. While Christie may believe they have, local officials on the ground simply don’t agree.
It’s not a matter of mayors and freeholders and councilpeople looking for “excuses”: they simply demand that JCP&L be held accountable for its performance and its promises. It’s astonishing that the governor would willingly abandon so many of these officials – many coming directly from his political base – to defend a utility that so many say did a terrible job.
Worse, it appears Christie does not fully understand how detrimental JCP&L’s poor response has been to his constituents:
If you’re one of the 85 customers in Millburn who woke up this morning and didn’t have power, you think they suck. That’s what you think. You’re like, “JCP&L sucks.” That’s what you think. And I can’t change that; I can’t change that. That’s the way people are going to think.
And I’m sure there are particular reasons why those 85 custmers can’t get power to them any soner than now. But they don’t want to hear it, man. They want…
They went through a second NFL Sunday with no TV. They don’t want to hear it. Although, given the way the Giants played the last two weeks week, they’re probably happy they didn’t see it.
Contrary to Christie’s blithe remark, there are real and serious consequences to JCP&L’s poor performance:
Three men were trapped in an overturned vehicle for more than a half-hour as Vernon rescue workers waited for a JCP&L crew to remove what were believed to be dangling power lines, said township Police Chief Roy Wherry.
In the end, utility workers never came and the lines turned out to be harmless telephone lines, which were removed by rescue workers.
“You wouldn’t want your wife and kid to be in that vehicle. You didn’t know when or if help was ever going to come,” said Lt. Randy Mills. “Even phone lines can be hazardous, they can be energized by power lines.”
Wherry had some harsh words for the electrical utility.
“It seems like after every disaster JCP&L apologizes and promises to get better, but they never do,” he said.
And then there’s the economic costs: the devastation of Sandy is bad enough, but JCP&L’s slow, disorganized response has made things worse. How many millions of dollars in economic activity were lost because businesses couldn’t get power? How many poor decisions were made because JCP&L couldn’t give its commercial and residential customers reasonably accurate restoration times?
The citizens of New Jersey deserve a real investigation into JCP&L’s – and, for that matter, PSE&G’s – response to this disaster. It’s increasingly looking like they will not get one from this governor. Meanwhile, the criticisms continue to pile up:
Lists of the roads JCP&L believed were without power in two Morris County towns were wrong and incomplete, their mayors said.
They also said communication between Jersey Central Power & Light and elected officials must improve.
Montville Mayor Tim Braden and Washington Township Acting Mayor Tracy Tobin each said they had to correct the power company on where to make repairs as it struggled to restore electricity to New Jersey after the disastrous storm.
JCP&L management and the utility’s performance before, during and after Hurricane Sandy hit Summit received a failing grade from residents and those officials who spoke tonight.
Council President Richard Madden started off with this assessment, “Our electrical service, these past two weeks in Summit and New Jersey have been nothing less than horrendous. JCP&L’s aging 75-year-old service system has been crippled further by our aging and fallen trees and poles, resulting in slower power restoration and unreliable reporting in this electronic age.“
While heaping praise on the utility crews who were strangers to the area, Mayor Petillo said she was most upset by the misinformation given to town officials by management of Jersey Central Power & Light.
“They should have been truthful in the numbers they were giving us so we could communicate with the residents,” Petillo said. “That misinformation was so harmful to residents who stayed in their homes because we were being told power would be back shortly.”
The mayor was asked to put a letter grade on the utility’s handling of Sandy, compared with 2011’s Hurricane Irene and the 2011 Halloween snowstorm.
“I’d give them a C for Irene. That was a lot of flooding. They were so-so responding,” she said.
For the Halloween storm, Petillo said JCP&L improved their communications and response. “We were out for five, six days, but I’d give them a B.
“In this storm, they have done nothing. The best I can give them is an F-minus,“
Marlboro Township power is fully restored, but Mayor Jon Hornik said JCP&L still has to answer for its practices.
Hornik, who was also vocal after Hurricane Irene when the township spent up to 10 days without power in 2011, said he’s not sure what township officials will do next but he does know the Monmouth County utility company needs to make changes.
“I know we have a long list of things that we think JCP&L needs to do to become better in terms of responding and restoring electricity,” Hornik said. “It’s not only communication. The actual restoration operation is completely in the dark ages.”
Like many township officials around the state, Hornik said he spent countless hours speaking with JCP&L representatives and executives. But the mayor said many of those conversations were fruitless.
“We knew more on the ground in Marlboro than our JCP&L representative or executives knew in their office. It doesn’t work.”
Does the governor believe that all of these officials are “selfish”? Is there any chance he’ll forget his previous business ties to JCP&L and take these complaints seriously?