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Public: More New Canaan Infrastructure Wanted for Storms

New Canaan residents said they want better cell service and more lines underground At a recent forum for the public to give feedback on how well town and utility officials handled Superstorm Sandy.

Better coverage by cell-phone towers, more electricity lines underground and even better radio service were some of the suggestions New Canaan residents gave town and utility officials at a recent public forum.

About 60 town residents showed up for the feedback forum held Thursday in New Canaan High School. Some expressed annoyance at how long it took for power to get back, others profusely thanked town officials and public safety employees and volunteers for how much hard work they put in.

Underground power lines

Some who got up to speak said Connecticut should have underground electricity lines, as they do in some European countries.

"The cost is not so high," said Hector Medina of Hoyt Street—especially considering the costs to customers from lost power and the amount of money it costs the utility to make repairs, he said. With "the amount of money you have invested in repairing things, you could've put a lot of miles underground."

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"The weather is not going to get better—that's for sure," he said. Another town resident said, "I think if the taxpayer has to pay extra to bury the lines, in the end he will have the advantage."

Robert Quinlan, senior vice president of emergency preparedness for CL&P, replied:

"We are taking a hard look at undergrounding a portion of the system but for widespread undergrounding, most studies—if not all studies—have said the cost is prohibitive. We are talking about many billions of dollars [...] Most utilities, most objective observers say that's a big price to ask our customers to pay."

Instead, Quinlan said, the utility has a $300 million plan before the state utilities commission. CL&P wants to bury only selective power lines, such as those used by hospitals, police and fire departments, he said, "where incurring that kind of cost makes sense becs there so important to society."

This past year, the utility spent $60 million in tree trimming across the state, he said, and similar amounts will need to be spent for the next five to 10 years, he said.

"As you know, trimming trees in Connecticut can be a challenge," Quinlan continued. "We're pretty much attached to the aesthetics"

"Not as much as we used to be," quipped First Selectman Robert Mallozzi III, a comment which made the audience laugh.

"It's intersting—that actually has been our experience," Quinlan replied. "We're getting far fewer refusals to day than we did in the past."

Better cell phone service

Some residents brought up New Canaan's problem of areas in town where  coverage from cell-phone towers is difficult or entirely absent.

"Many times it would be several hours before I would get the reverse 911 call," Lovastik said. She had to wait for chances to drive out of her neighborhood before she could use her phone, she said.

If the town needs to take property in order to put up a cell tower, then it should so so, another resident said.

Geoffrey Pickard, a member of the town utility commission, spoke about New Canaan's overall wireless or cell phone capabilitiy.

"Frankly it stinks," he said.

"On a scale of 100, we're down to about 35 percent in terms of reliability. Darien 70. Wilton  45.

"Why? Because of our topography," he said. "There are many ridges and valleys in this town that we all love—22 square miles of ridges and valleys." And cell phone towers need just about line-of-site clearance to reach mobile phones, he said.

Pickard said the town's primary cell-phone service proviers—Verizon, AT&T and Team Mobile—"all say the same thing: We need more cell towers [...] maybe three or four stategically located ... that would fill in the voids that we currently have."

Two sites currently are in the process of being chosen by the town, Pickard said, and then an application to the state utilities commission will be necessary before any new towers go up—and that could take two years, given the state's various rules and regulations about putting up new towers.

Remove debris faster after the storm

One town resident complained that it took longer for the town to clear debris after Sandy than after the Halloween 2011 storm, even though more people had been out of power in New Canaan in the earlier storm.

Michael Pastore, New Canaan Public Works director, said Sandy has actually been much worse in terms of storm debris removed in New Canaan than either the Halloween storm or the other big 2011 storm, Irene.

Tiger Mann, assistant director of public works, gave out these figures: As of Thursday, public works crews had removed 5,018 tons of debris (about a million pounds). The total amount removed after the Halloween storm (called Alfred) was 1,574; after Irene, 1,359. If those two 2011 storms were combined (2,9, the amount of debris removed almost could be doubled to reach the total removed after Storm Sandy, he said.

"I've had men that have been here for 30 years (say) they've never seen anything like it," Pastore said of Storm Sandy. The town had more than 450 places where roads were closed, he said.

From Route 106 north to the state line, he said, there were 44 trees down after the storm. On West Road, 105 truckloads of brush and debris were removed, he said.

Other Suggestions

Radio service

Lovastik said that since her home doesn't get cell phone service, when her power was out she relied on a battery-powered radio, but no radio stations had much, if any information on what was going on in New Canaan. She said a Westport fire official who broadcast information over the high school radio station in Westport would be willing to offer advice to New Canaan officials if asked.

Mallozzi said town officials want to use the St. Luke's School radio station at certain points during weather-related emergencies, and officials at the school are open to the idea.

Give out phone numbers slowly in Reverse-911 robocalls

That was the suggestion from Erich Bruhn, who said the other people in his coffee group repeatedly said they couldn't write down the phone numbers fast enough.

Old copper landlines work if power goes out when newer lines don't

Martin Daniels said his AT&T phone service still worked when his neighbors' didn't because he never switched to combined television-cable-phone lines. The combined service cables went down when the electricity did, he said, adding that AT&T would like to replace more of those old copper wires across the country.

Still other suggestions and comments

  • The town's youth center was open for people to charge their phones or use wifi service, but the youth center wasn't mentioned in the town's online document about local resources, Daniels said. Mallozzi said town officials would fix that.
  • The town's Facebook page, which provided storm-related information, was "terrific," Daniels said, and he noted that among the comments were a number from people in other towns saying their local government should have a similaf page.
  • Daniels asked town officials if they could continue to pin the document about town resources to the top of the town's Facebook page as had been done last year when storms hit, because the document was very useful and easy to find there. Mallozzi and Handler said it had been on the Home page of the town website.
  • Lovastik said it took her son 90 minutes to get home from UConn-Stamford one day because bus drivers in Stamford—filling in for the not-in-service New Canaan Branch of Metro-North—were unfamiliar with the route into New Canaan.
  • CL&P made a mistake in identifying which circuit the Waveny Care assisted living facility was on, so they gave wrong information to the facility about when its power would be returning. "It's been an ongoing issue in recrent storms," Mallozzi said. A CL&P official said getting the maps right is something the utility is working on by meeting with local officials.

 

Dave December 10, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Under ground lines and better cell towers service are you people in this town at all in reality think about what will have to happen in a line under ground is broken damaged or needs repair think people think that means new hardware to find breaks in line more schooling for guys to be able to run the new equipment which means NEW equipment and this gose for the cell problem too over all means a lot of money needs I be spent for all I this ad guess who will be paying for it US YOU IDIOTS more for you to bitch about and really better cell dose any have a clue what that means money wise location wise if uug can't survive with out your cell then your better off in the place you are GROW some BALLS anfd handle life as it comes
Angie S. December 10, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Burying utility wires to a new construction home isn't going to help anything other than make things more aesthetically pleasing. I inquired about this before, and I discovered that depending on whether the feeder lines are down or live/hot, you'd still be without power to your home. For instance, near the border with Wilton, power is coming from lines further up the chain in Wilton, and then you're dependent on Wilton and New Canaan public works people to coordinate restoration of power (along with CL&P). With so many cooks, it's no wonder it takes longer than expected to restore power. But, unless you bury all the lines involved in delivering power to your new home, it doesn't help you have any more stable power supply by simply burying the wires from the pole to your home. From what I can tell, if I'm going to live in a heavily wooded CT town, my best bet is to invest in a very good generator and plan on periodic expenses to run it several times a year. Surely that will cost less than the taxes that would be required to attempt to bury all power delivery lines (which would also take FOREVER --- so long that I might die before I see the benefits of any of my tax dollars invested today).
David Gurliacci (Editor) December 10, 2012 at 04:35 PM
I neglected to add: The cost per mile for putting lines underground is $1 million to as much as $8 million per mile, Quinlan said.
Angie S. December 10, 2012 at 04:39 PM
And I really don't get all the comparisons to Europe. They have the most backwards plumbing I have ever seen. So what if they bury their power lines. They have newer construction even in old cities and perhaps not so much preservation of old buildings; and burying utilities is heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars (can we say super hefty taxes and insolvent government spending practices?). The developed parts of Asia are even better than Europe. So what? Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore have much nicer skyscrapers and modern buildings than ugly old NYC, but they're very young cities without the long history of NYC. So, it is what it is. But even with their buried power lines, it's not like it guarantees you stable power supply either. Flooding and freezing water/snow underground will cause just as many problems with power delivery. And, given the amount of wetlands in New Canaan, I would be worried about flooding just as much as downed trees above ground. The real cost-benefit of burying lines just doesn't seem practicable --- despite the idea of having buried lines sounding pretty good on the surface.
Erich Bruhn December 10, 2012 at 04:44 PM
To the editor: while your reporter, Dave Gurliacci's report correctly lays out the complaints and suggestions made by town residents, with the exception of one introductory line re the many and almost universal comments of praise offered, I found the article very one sided in the impression given the reader. With VERY few exceptions all who spoke were calm, helpful in their comments and included gratitude for the response of our town employees. I, for one, mentioned that some of our first responders and town employees worked extream hours, even sleeping in town, while their own families were under stress or in trouble. We can't ask for more than that. Inclusion of similar comments would have resulted in a much more balanced article regarding what, I and many others felt was a very productive meeting.
Roy A. Abramowitz December 10, 2012 at 06:16 PM
I unequivocally agree with Erich. The town's response was second to none and our OEM is utilized as a structual and operational example and format by other municipalities. The highway department was out clearing roads all night as soon as the weather cleared even though their families may have been without power, heat, food etc. Members of the Police Department worked consecutive shifts and members of the fire department actually got trapped responding during the storm.The OEM staff worked 24/7 and I know for a fact that First Selectman Mallozzi and his family were at the "Y" helping residents. Also remember that downed trees and damage outside the "town right-of-way is the responsibility of the homeowner. Better "private" care of private trees and limbs over-hanging wires and structures would have prevented alot of damage and will in the future. Be pro-active for your own private property responsibility. A little positive energy goes a long - way. Not every road in town can be first for response. Care of the elderly and medical dependent are the town's first responsibility. Roy A Abramowitz
Cobie Graber December 10, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Speaking of which, we should note how many of our local residents, employees and volunteers are still helping with restoration efforts in New Jersey and New York. We have so many local heroes. The Patch should shine a spotlight on them.
Drama Mama December 10, 2012 at 10:19 PM
The OEM in New Canaan was excellent. And after the 2 previous storms many of us were better prepared and knew the "drill". However, not having phone-cell or otherwise was really difficult. Before we start burying the electrical wires it is time to get some reliable cellphone service. And waiting 2 years is really unacceptable we need to appeal to State for a fast track approval. The town also needs to have one of the schools with a generator. The library was outstanding in offering wi-fi but it was so crowded and really not able to handle the amount of people affected.
joe January 01, 2013 at 08:53 PM
government needs to make prioritized choices. welfare, food-stamps, obamacare, free emergency room care for all illegals, our prisons are filled with folks who overwhelmingly voted for Obama.These programs cost money and we the people lose power for a week in October from a storm.

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