Vernon's Mayor: CL&P Isn't Much Help As He Tries To Cope

VERNON —

Day five of the Halloween storm disaster, and this is Mayor Jason McCoy's life: Generators at the sewer plant and water company are about to blow, the emergency shelter is almost full, two dozen streets are still blocked, and lines are down at more than 200 locations.

There have been more than 500 calls from residents about trees or wires in the road.

If there's no generator at the water plant, there's no water in homes. If the generator fails at the sewer plant, sewage will back up into houses, more than 90 percent of which were still without power Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday evening, the town council held an emergency session to approve a $420,000 appropriation from an emergency fund to help pay for the emergency.

But what's his biggest problem?

It's getting Connecticut Light & Power to answer his questions.

"They can't give you any answers to any questions,'' said McCoy, a lawyer who is leaving office to make a long-shot run for U.S. Senate. "We've got people trapped in neighborhoods. My biggest frustration is we are not able to do what we need to do."

It's not hard to understand McCoy's frustration. When I asked CL&P Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Butler about this problem at a press conference Thursday evening, he responded, "There have been issues."

Yes, we can all agree on that one.

In a town office on Thursday I listened as McCoy tried to explain to the town's liaison from CL&P that power for the water company is a bigger priority than finding electricity on Election Day. Meanwhile, a restaurant owner on Route 83 called in to complain that the power outage is bankrupting him.

This is the new reality for administrators such as McCoy in the towns hard hit by last Saturday's snowstorm. A politically ambitious and outspoken Republican, McCoy told me he can't believe the most basic needs of his community, like removing all downed trees and wires from blocked roads, aren't being met.

Before a tree that's resting on wires can by cut up and removed, a CL&P crew has to make sure the wires aren't live. McCoy said he's been unable to get CL&P to come to the streets that remain blocked.

I rode with McCoy and Fire Chief William Call out to the Merline Road neighborhood, where massive oak trees, entrangled in utility wires, barricaded the roads. I could see why a house fire could be a disaster.

"Here's a whole neighborhood where we can't get a firetruck or an ambulance through,'' Call said as McCoy added that this was one the two dozen locations that he said were a priority. Near Seneca and Irene drives we find homeowners cutting wood and the constant hum of generators. McCoy and Call worry that with the wires on lawns, streets and sidewalks, and sagging from poles, residents are no longer taking the danger seriously.

"We've been trapped in our house since Saturday," Suzanne Thrall told McCoy when we walked by her house. "We can't even get a contractor or an insurance adjuster up here."

"Every time I call CL&P I get different stories," Thrall tells McCoy. "We say we should be on a priority list because we are trapped. They say there is no priority list.''

We moved on and listened to complaints from other neighbors, all of them astonished that their streets were still blocked — not to mention their houses still dark — five days after a snowstorm everyone knew was coming.

On Thursday, Vernon's CL&P liaison told McCoy that she had expected repair trucks to be all over town by now, which made him laugh when he told me the story. It's a tale McCoy chose not to tell when he spoke to residents camped out at the town's middle school later in the day.

Over at the middle-school-turned-emergency-center, where 200 people are sleeping on cots and hundreds show up to eat, drink a cup of coffee or join a bingo game, McCoy stood on a table and told the crowd he didn't expect all power to be restored until a week from Sunday. That's seven days after CL&P's prediction of full restoration.

"The shelter will be open until we can get everything working,'' McCoy said. "We are trying to do the best we can for you."

Right now, that's nowhere near enough.


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