BPU Meeting on Storm Response Held at Town Hall

BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso

PARSIPPANY — The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities held a public hearing on Thursday, April 12 at Parsippany Town Hall regarding the Matter of the Board’s Review of Major Storm Events of March 2018. This hearing is the second hearing on the subject matter. The first of five hearings was held on Thursday, April 5, Byram Intermediate School.

The purpose of this hearing was to solicit public comments regarding the state of preparedness and responsiveness of the electric distribution companies prior to, during, and after the March 2018 winter storms.

“BPU has officially begun its thorough investigation into the recent power outages, as ordered by Governor Murphy,” said NJBPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso. “We applaud Governor Murphy for making power restoration improvements a priority and BPU will do everything we can to ensure New Jersey residents experience significant improvements during future storms.”

The storms walloped the area on March 2 and March 7. The March 2 storm brought more than a foot of heavy snow and wind gusts of more than 60 miles per hour. The storm knocked out power to thousands of people, more than 14,000 homes in Parsippany.

“There were many residents who didn’t have heat and electricity for days, we must do whatever we can to significantly reduce the chance of this happening in the future. Reduce the change, wish I could say eliminate it, but we can’t. To this end, we have launched this investigation which this hearing is a part of, to see as I said, if there was an adherence to those protocols and to see what we could do better as “A” grade majority. We will be looking at the preparedness, mutual assistance agreements, vegetation management, communication, and the potential for underground lines among many other items. Information you provide tonight is an integral part of our investigation and be part of the public record. As I indicated,” said BPU President Joseph Fiordaliso.

Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor Michael Soriano

Mayor Michael Soriano said “Welcome to Parsippany, the crossroads of northern New Jersey. This is a very smart and strategic move on your part to make sure that we were all able to get here in a very easy fashion because we are the crossroads. We have so many roads and we made everyone’s commute easy, especially mine. These storms were like none other than we’re going to hear about that over and over again. I prepared some statements. Parsippany was amongst the hardest hit communities in the state between March 2 Nor’easter and winter storm Quinn; more than half of Parsippany residents were about 53%, representing over 14,000 customers at its peak. Amongst the victims of the storm where people with disabilities and serious health issues; who do not have the option of being without power for three, six or in some cases nine days. I know from personal experience that the men and women of JCP&L spent 16 hour shifts restoring power. They deserve a great deal of praise working in winter conditions is far from easy and I believe I speak for all of Parsippany residences in thanking them for providing a service that is, frankly, life threatening. The field managers at worked closely with me to restore Parsippany outages. We probably need to look towards in the future that when we import Labor into Morris County for JCP&L, from other states, also bringing their Field Managers as well, that would probably help as well with efficiency and just in supervision in general to make sure that the electricians are where they need to be when they need to be.”

He continued “Now again, I thank JCP&L’s leadership and their people for helping us, however, the Board of Directors and Stockholders have made virtually no progress in upgrading the power infrastructure or building resources from major disasters since the devastation of hurricane Irene and Sandy. This lack of vision and planning is what put all of us all in jeopardy. However, JCP&L and is not the only one that failed. I failed. As a leader of this community. As a mayor. I failed. And so did everyone in this room who was a leader of their communities. So did BPU. We all fail. As citizens, we failed. We failed to keep people like me and politicians accountable. We got comfortable. We let Sandy and Irene by us and we said, OK, sunny days, everything will be sunshine and rainbows. That’s not reality there is going to be another storm sooner or later.”

“The fact that we’re still using the same type of utility holes dating to the Morse code lines of the 1840’s. Despite the widespread availability of 21st century technologies, telecommunication companies such as Verizon and Optimum also share the blame in this antiquated state of our electrical and communications infrastructure. It can’t just be on JCP&L. The electrical, telephone and cable and utilities must begin to coordinate the recovery efforts and start squabbling over jurisdictional issues while residents languish in the dark end of the cold. The reality of the situation is this: another storm of this magnitude or even larger will come; it maybe this year or the year after, but it is coming. Major storms, hurricanes, and other disasters are a fact of life. Something that our state has extensive experience and something that we must be more prepared for it. We thought that was going to happen after Hurricane Sandy. It did not. I know I now stand with other communities in our state and saying this to the public utilities and to all of us, we must not let this happen again and we’re here to help you. Again. I want to thank you for coming here. I want to thank you for being proactive and saying, yes, we’re going to investigate this and we’re going to make this better, but as the leader of this community, I don’t just want to come here and point blame and complaint. I want to be part of the solution. I want to help. Thank you,” said Soriano.

When Resolution No. R2018-45, “Endorsing Governor Murphy’s Directive to The Board of Public Utilities to investigate and hold hearings on how Jersey Central Power & Light responded to the recent Winter storms leaving thousands of Township Residents without power,” Councilman Michael dePierro and Councilwoman Loretta Gragnani opposed such resolution to hold such hearings. (Click here to read related article)

Councilman Michael dePierro was the only Parsippany Council member to address the commission. In addition to the Mayor and dePierro, Eric Hubner, Coordinator of Parsippany Office of Emergency Management also addressed the BPU.

dePierro said a problem after every bad storm is that the township is littered with downed trees, power lines, telephone and cable wires. Acknowledging the magnitude of the job, dePierro suggested that JCP&L train two workers in the Parks and Forestry Department to handle such seemingly easy tasks like remove a downed pole blocking a road. This is not a new request. dePierro has made this requested to JCP&L over the years.

In addition to hearings, the Board will closely review the more than 100 utility storm protocols it implemented following Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene to assess whether these protocols were followed during the recent storms and where improvements should be made. In particular, the BPU will be reviewing mutual aid assistance protocols to ensure New Jersey utilities make restoring power in New Jersey their first priority.

If you weren’t able to attend the hearings, you can mail comments to the Board Secretary at aida.camacho@bpu.snj.gov. The comments, maybe also submitted in writing to the Board Secretary, Aida Camacho, 44 South Clinton Avenue, Third Floor, Post Office Box 350, Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0350. You must submit all comments by May 30.

Those filing written comments should reference March 2018 Winter Storm Events comments Docket Number EO18030255 in the subject field for emails and in the heading of any written correspondence.

The third hearing will take place on Monday April 16, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Township of Mahwah Municipal Offices, Bergen County at 475 Corporate Drive. The fourth will occur on Monday April 23, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Winslow Township Municipal Building in Camden County. The fifth and final hearing will take place on Friday May 4, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Sergeantsville Firehouse, 761 Sergeantsville Roadd.