"Did it help? Absolutely, in some areas it certainly did," Gross said.
Some residents have complained that the trimming is too aggressive, hurting their streets' appearance. Quinlan heard an earful from one Farmington resident, Alice B. Sawyer, on the Wednesday before Sandy hit. But that's one of the areas where the program worked well, Gross said. "It reduced the amount of time those customers were without power," he said.
On that same Wednesday, CL&P made its case before state regulators to increase the cutting to $60 million a year for the next five years. Quinlan agrees the company needs to strike a balance in tree-loving Connecticut. As for burying wires, at $1 million to $8 million per mile, with 17,000 miles of lines, that would cost tens of billions.
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Falling trees hitting high-voltage transmission lines present a large threat to the system, as they are located outside the company's rights of way. "How much are we allowed to do? It was a problem last year, it was a problem again this year," Gross said.
After the 2011 storms, crews typically arrived at a street, cleared the way and restored power, more or less at once. That angered customers and town officials, who sent a message that Quinlan said the company heard and heeded: clear the roads ASAP and come back later to restore power, unless the restoration job is quick and easy.
The company will not concede that the strategy, known as "make safe," delayed power restoration overall this time. "We're in a parallel effort," Quinlan said, clearing roads and restoring power, sometimes with different sets of crews.
Some customers were befuddled by the practice, as they saw crews working their streets, only to leave before restoring power. Crews had discretion on whether to do both tasks at once, or clear the roads and leave the scene to clear others.
Fernandes, the union chief, said the strategy didn't work. "We've never been onboard with that and we weren't in on the decision," he said. "You're creating more work for yourself. What you're gaining on the front end, you're losing on the back end."
Fernandes said that a balance needs to be struck, and that the emphasis this time was too heavy on clearing roads first at the expense of power restoration.
It's hard to argue against "make safe" as a strategy, but if it did delay some restorations, the company should say so. Customers would understand.
In 2011, the company's emergency operations system didn't have the ability to pinpoint every truck. This year, it did, in real time, including where each vehicle was located, how fast it was moving and whether its bucket boom was raised.
That let the company move crews around quickly, to meet developing issues — or to respond to first selectmen and mayors demanding more resources.
"The ability of our town liaisons to sit and show the town officials exactly what the situation was in their communities, certainly helped," Gross said.
There were, however, some reports of town officials not finding the crews that the system said were on their streets. Occhiogrosso, the governor's aide, said he saw some instances of that happening, and chalked it up to "confusion."
Confusion is understandable in an operation of that size, and even if the company was playing some sleight of hand, as at least one first selectmen implied, at least it's better to have a sophisticated system to track it.