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.
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.