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Westport still recovering: Power coming back, generators flicking off

Updated 4:42 pm, Tuesday, November 6, 2012

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  • Low-hanging power lines had yet to be repaired along Harbor Road on Sunday in the wake of Hurricane Sandy six days earlier. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Low-hanging power lines had yet to be repaired along Harbor Road on Sunday in the wake of Hurricane Sandy six days earlier. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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After humming for several days after Hurricane Sandy battered town, Fernando Martins' generator stood silent Sunday afternoon.

Six days after the electricity cut out, power was finally restored around 10 a.m. Sunday to Martins' Island Way home on Saugatuck Island at the southern tip of the Saugatuck Shores section of town.

"We're shutting down the generator!" Martins exclaimed from the deck of his house, as he and his stepson, seventh-grader Yohann Offredo, gave a final check to the hushed apparatus. "We're very happy. The support and solidarity of our neighbors this week has been incredible."

Martins' jubilance pointed to the relief of many Saugatuck Shores residents, who switched on their lights Sunday for the first time since Sandy swept through last Monday. As Connecticut Light & Power ramped up its deployment of line crews to Westport over the weekend, outage numbers in Saugatuck Shores and other parts of town plummeted.

The escalation of CL&P's post-storm response at the end of the week appeared to only partially placate First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who vocally criticized the utility's handling of the mass outages following Sandy's landfall.

"Despite the influx of additional CL&P crews into Westport, restoration progress has been unacceptably slow," Joseloff said in a broadcast Sunday evening from the town's Emergency Operations Center at Fire Department headquarters on Post Road East.

During a meeting Sunday with Joseloff at the town's Emergency Operations Center, CL&P President William Herdegen "acknowledged that CL&P did not get the number of crews it had hoped before the storm's start," according to Joseloff.

CL&P told Joseloff that 55 line crews and 20 tree crews would be working Sunday night and early Monday morning in Westport.

Selectman Charles Haberstroh also criticized CL&P's management of post-storm operations in town.

"CL&P was once again ill-prepared for Hurricane Sandy," Haberstroh said in an email Sunday. "It is inexplicable how they could only have two crews available the day after the hurricane. Logistically, they did not have the people or equipment in place to attack the wires and trees down on a timely basis."

CL&P spokesman Frank Poirot responded Monday that the utility has responded well to a storm of Sandy's force.

"This was a major storm, and its impact on the distribution system was so extensive," Poirot said. "Trees took down entire streets of the distribution system, and it literally had to be rebuilt from scratch. ... It's a small comfort, particularly for customers who've been without power for a week. That's what we face for restoration. These are not quick fixes."

Continuing challenges

CL&P's power restoration strategy is predicated on the location of the town's substations, Fire Inspector Nate Gibbons explained during a Sunday morning broadcast from the EOC.

"They work on lines from the substation out, and they restore areas serving the most customers first," Gibbons said. "This means that if you're on a cul-de-sac with 15 homes on it, you will most likely get your power back before one with five homes on it."

But that approach creates a predicament for Westport residents who live north of the Merritt Parkway: Most of them are serviced by a CL&P substation on Weston Road in Weston. Residents in that section of town are consistently among the last Westport residents to get their power back after major storms.

Melissa Kane, a Representative Town Meeting member from northern Westport's District 3, said Sunday afternoon that constituents with whom she had spoken were maintaining a resilient attitude despite the prolonged outages. Kane, too, had not yet been reconnected, although she and her family have hooked up a generator for their home.

Even for residents back on the grid, many challenges lie ahead.

Sandy soaked Ihor and Larysa Chernik's Marine Avenue home on Saugatuck Island with a foot of water throughout their first floor.

That knocked out their furnace, and they will need a new heating system. They will also need to raise their house.

As a result, they will probably not be able to move back until next spring.

"This is the worst combination because it's wires exposed to salt water," Ihor Chernik said Sunday, as he walked on a downstairs hardwood floor that buckled slightly under his feet. "There is almost no point to restoring it without lifting the house. It happened two years in row. It's not storms that occur every 20 years. It's now basically year after year."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott