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Quincy mayor angered at National Grid response

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 30, 2011 02:35 PM

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(Photo courtesy of Margaret Laforest) In Brockton Ave in Germantown yesterday, a tree lays on power lines, cutting power to 300 customers in the area.

As Quincy officials worked to restore power to the nearly 8,000 customers who were affected by Tropical Storm Irene, Mayor Thomas Koch blasted National Grid's resposne as “deeply flawed and totally unacceptable.”

In a release sent out Tuesday afternoon, Koch said the lack of manpower and unreliable communication to both customers and city officials was intolerable.

“The City was prepared, and we expected the same of National Grid. There’s little doubt in my mind that they weren’t,” Koch said. “I just hope that this isn’t a case of a major corporation sacrificing service to its customers in an effort to protect the bottom line.”

Irene caused substantial damage to many areas of the city, knocking down more than 250 trees and hitting over 50 power lines from Squantum to West Quincy.

And although the city said it was ready for such an impact, the slow response of National Grid, which reportedly had three crews on the ground for both Weymouth and Quincy on Sunday, did little to help.

According to city staff, Quincy had five tree crews of their own available to handle emergencies on Sunday, and have had both the Parks and Forestry Department and the DPW working to clear debris since then.

However National Grid spokesperson David Graves said the utility provider felt their response was more than adequate.

After preparing for the event five days in advance, and working around the clock in the storm's aftermath, things have gotten significantly better, he said.

"It's only been 48 hrs and w’eve made tremendous advances in restoring power," Graves said. "At one time we had over 500,000 customers out. That number is now down to 155,000. We have made tremendous strides. In Quincy, there are still 4200 customers out, which is less than 10 precent of the customer base. But we’ve made contact [with officials], applied resources where we feel they are most needed, and we’ve been honest and upfront that it may be into the weekend before everyone is restored."

Mayoral spokesperson Christopher Walker agreed that power was gradually coming back on throughout the city, but said it was mostly due to city officials pressuring the utility repeatedly to provide more resources and issue a more specific timeline.

Although nearly all municipalities in the South Shore are clamoring over the same issue, Koch said his anger wasn’t the result of impatience.

“I fully understand that with major incidents like this, there is need for everyone to exercise a little patience, but the bottom line here is that National Grid was once again dramatically unprepared,” Koch said in the release. “There is no excuse – this storm had been forecast for more than a week.”

Despite that, Graves said the list of municipalities that were still partially without power was too long to read.

"Some people are frustrated, but we were hit with the most severe since Hurricane Bob struck, and it takes time to recover from this kind of storm…and that’s what we’re doing," he said.

The response isn't enough for city officials, who will reportedly be talking with Beacon Hill leaders and other officials to seek reparations against the utility company through the Department of Public Utilities.

It’s a route previously traveled. After the Dec. 26 storm, National Grid was fined over $2 million by the state for its inadequate response.

“We are having the same conversations today that we had in December, and that is
Incredibly frustrating,” Koch said.

In the meantime, clean-up has continued for the city, and things have progressed nicely, Walker said.

The city will conduct pick up of tree limbs and large branches on regular trash days for the remainder of this week. Yard waste regularly scheduled will take place next week.

Additionally, all trees have been removed from power lines, and all road blockages associated with debris have been handled.

“From the city’s perspective, it went very well. The largest issue was and remains the electrical issue,” Walker said. “We’re handcuffed by private utility company, and its frustrating because you’re accustomed to be able to go out and take care of problems. In this case … it became that much more difficult.”

To view updates of power restoration, click here.

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