Malloy defends his use of National Guard during storm

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy bristled today at the suggestion he was too slow to activate the National Guard to cope with last week’s freak snowstorm, saying that hundreds of guard personnel were alerted before the storm hit.

“Can we stop about the National Guard?” Malloy told reporters. “I think you are missing the point. The National Guard was called in immediately and given a specific charge.”

The guard’s first mission was to coordinate the distribution of emergency food and water supplies, with additional units added throughout the week to help Connecticut Light & Power and municipalities clear downed trees, he said.

A Guard spokesman said 250 personnel were activated before the storm and Guard staffing rose to 500 by midweek and reached 2,000 by last weekend.

“The Guard was on from the beginning,” said Col. John Whitford, the spokesman.

Malloy, who has answered questions daily about the response of the state and CL&P to a massive power outage, praised the performance of state employees during the storm.

Asked to rate his own performance, Malloy replied, “I don’t think any better or any worse than I would have hoped for. It’s been a long struggle for everybody. I think there were outstanding performances by many state employees.”

But the governor brushed aside any suggestion that the Guard should have been more involved in clearing trees from road ways, saying that engineering units could not clear trees where CL&P had not removed downed wires.

Malloy said he was in awe of the amount of damage caused by the pre-Halloween storm, which splintered trees and devastated the state’s power grid. According to an initial estimate, 4.3 million cubic yards of debris needed to be removed.

Whitford said separately that 250 members of the guard were mobilized prior to the storm, given a mission of setting up a system to distribute emergency supplies.

On Monday following the storm, the guard had set up a distribution center to receive emergency food and water deliveries from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then made multiple deliveries to 85 towns.

“The last delivery we did yesterday was to Avon,” Whitford said.

By mid-week, about 500 Guard members were on duty as two engineering companies, the 250th of New London and 248th of Norwich, turned out with chainsaws and heavy equipment, Whitford said.

Each company had more than 100 soldiers. An 80-person civil engineering unit attached to the Air Guard in Connecticut was unavailable, its members deployed to Afghanistan, he said.

Whitford said Guard personnel cleared roads unaffected by downed wires in Waterbury, Prospect and Seymour early in the week, but it could move no faster than CL&P on streets where trees brought down wires.

“The Connecticut National Guard does not have the expertise or units that do that type of work,” Whitford said.

By Thursday, Guard crews shifted to Simsbury, working with CL&P. They also helped reopen streets in Windsor Locks, Granby, East Granby and West Hartford, he said.

After Tropical Storm Irene, the Guard set up a distribution center to accept emergency supplies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Municipalities had to pick up the material.

This time, Malloy asked the Guard to also delivery the food and water.

It distributed more than 34,000 cases of ready-to-eat meals and 34,000 cases of water to 85 times, making multiple deliveries to many towns, including six to hard-hit Tolland.

On Nov. 5, the Guard made an unusual delivery: getting a generator to a dairy farm in Ellington, where the lack of power left a farmer unable to milk a herd of 1700 cows.

When told that state government generally does not provide that kind of assistance to a private entity, Malloy said he replied that he did not want “exploding cows” on his watch.

Whitford said he did not have the identity of the farm. A generator also was brought to a nursing home.

Malloy declined to say if he thought municipalities should explore taking over responsibility for power distribution.

“I will tell you this: I don’t think this is a business state government should be in,” Malloy said.

The governor said he expected that CL&P will be open to suggestions, some which could come in the form of legislation, about changes in its emergency procedures.

“I think they are a greatly humbled entity, and rightly so,” Malloy said. “And I would expect a willingness to embrace best practices that are brought to their attention, and I would expect they would embrace those best practices. If they fail to do so, they do so at their own risk.”