As municipal leaders across Connecticut complained Monday afternoon that utility restoration work from Tropical Storm Irene is proceeding too slowly, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pressed federal authorities to help direct more out-of-state repair crews here.
Representatives of both major utility companies insisted they have mobilized as much out-of-state assistance as possible to date, though more is expected later this week.
“I certainly understand their frustrations,” Malloy–who spent 90 minutes on a conference call with more than 200 city and town officials–said while recounting that conversation during an early evening briefing with Capitol reporters at the state armory.
Though municipal leaders also asked for assistance distributing emergency water and food supplies, the overwhelmingly concern was their inability to clear roads quickly when downed power lines are involved, Malloy said. That’s because municipal crews cannot work on those obstructions without a complementary utility team to safely shut off the electricity.
Meanwhile, both Connecticut Light & Power Co. President Jeff Butler and United Illuminating’s vice president of transmission business, John Prete, both said they have begun to use out-of-state crews to complement their own teams–and would hire more if they are made available.
“We’re still looking across the nation to bring other crews in,” Butler said. As of the 5 p.m. briefing, CL&P, which serves most of Connecticut, had about 800 crews in the field working 16-hour shifts, and hoped to have another 100 from out-of-state on the job within the next 24 hours, he said, adding that about 575,000 of the utility’s 672,000 customers remained without power.
UI, which serves the state’s southwestern corner, still had 105,000 of its 155,000 customers without power as of 5 p.m., but had about 200 crews — including local teams and others from Kansas and Indiana — in the field, Prete said.
Both companies’ websites were overwhelmed with traffic and inaccessible at times.
Malloy did not rule out the possibility that the utilities’ repair response time was being hampered from crew reductions driven over the years by profit margins. “I suspect that is the case,” the governor said.
Butler, when pressed, did concede that CL&P has less maintenance staff than it did when it responded to Hurricane Gloria in 1985. And though he didn’t have specific numbers, Butler also said he believes that is true of most companies in the industry across the country.
Both the Connecticut utility leaders and the governor also said they believe more out-of-state assistance could be available here if the federal government were to relax rules regarding the maintenance crews utility companies must keep on hand to response to local emergencies.
Malloy, who already has appealed to U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said he has requested conversations with — and hopes to press his case before — both Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Dept. of Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
“I want to have a discussion with them about finding ways to send more manpower our way,” the governor said, adding that in the meantime he would guarantee that utility officials would remain periodically accessible to the media throughout the clean-up. “That’s my personal assurance,” he said. “They’ll answer appropriate questions.”
Also Monday, Malloy announced that the state Department of Economic and Community Development would offer loans and loan guarantees of up to $200,000 to assist businesses harmed by Tropical Storm Irene.
Emergency funding would be made available to cover storm-related damage to business machine, equipment and other property.
The department also will be providing grants to help businesses obtain temporary assistance.
Further information can be obtained through the department’s website at www.DECD.org, or by calling 860-270-8215.