Mayor on Sandy: 'I'm Not Sticking Up for JCP&L'
James Barberio tempers previous praise of the utility company for helping the Puddingstone area during the storm.
The issue of Jersey Central Power and Light's performance during Superstorm Sandy arose during the Parsippany Township Council's Tuesday night regular meeting at Town Hall. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Mayor James Barberio softened a statement he made last week praising the utility.
At the Nov. 20 council agenda meeting, Barberio finally revealed serious problems—including a close call for the town's sewer plant—faced while dealing with the storm and massive power outages that affected more than half the town.
Among other things, Barberio last week mentioned the plight of residents in Parsippany's Puddingstone neighborhood who ended up trapped in their homes due to downed trees and wires.
"[JCP&L] came to the rescue for Puddingstone," the mayor then asserted. "That was a concerted effort between [the Office of Emergency Management] and the administration to get there immediately, because with no way to get in or out, we had no way to get emergency vehicles in there. That's what we were faced with that night."
However, this week brought the public revelation that residents were trapped in their homes for five days before the utility "came to the rescue."
During the public portion of Tuesday's meeting, there was praise for the police department and its use of the Internet and social media to pass some information to residents during Sandy. There also was criticism of JCP&L's widely perceived lack of communication and prompt action regarding restoring power for many town residents.
"The township and the police department did put out information," Barberio said. "There was a lot of major, major damage done. Not just downed wires, but [damaged] substations."
Regarding JCP&L, the mayor conceded that things were not perfect.
"There was communication, sometimes there was lack of communication," he said. "We're going to look into it."
He added that a group of mayors of Morris County municipalities will meet "soon" to discuss Sandy recovery and the utility's performance.
Councilman Paul Carifi Jr. noted that the Puddingstone situation showed that a better, faster response by JCP&L is needed.
"There's one way in or out [of Puddingstone]," Carifi said. "Five days [of leaving people trapped] is crazy."
"I'm not sticking up for JCP&L," said Mayor Barberio, "but after the fifth day, we called JCP&L and they came within two hours."
"Areas like that—and hospitals—need to be a top priority," said Carifi.
Councilman Michael dePierro suggested that "one key spokesman" from OEM should be designated to stay in contact with a utility pointperson.
Barberio said there was a chosen contact to deal with JCP&L—OEM's second-in-command, Capt. Jeffrey T. Storms.
The mayor said that more of the Sandy story, including the responsiveness of the utility company, will be revealed when Parsippany Police Chief Anthony DeZenzo and Capt. Storms address the Town Council Dec. 11.
"Why did [rescuing Puddingstone] take five days?" asked Council Vice President Vincent Ferrara.
"It was a mess out there," dePierro explained. "They had 4,000 telephone poles down, [and] they ran out of poles. This was a massive thing."
The mayor agreed.
"Eighty-seven percent of Parsippany was out [of power]," he said, adding that the police headquarters, Town Hall and the water department were among those dealing without electricity during the height of the superstorm.
"The priority became sewer and water," said Barberio. "And then we had other issues, health issues. ... Some areas took five days, some took more. It was that massive of a storm."
Councilman dePierro said a deeper look into the utility's performance and the nature of the storm is needed.
"Moving forward, the discussion I would like is [about] the power company," he said. "I know it's expensive, if they look at the total cost ... of putting some lines underground. Not the primary lines or the secondary lines, but the local telephone lines. It's expensive to do this, but maybe they could do an ongoing project over [several] years, so they can't get damaged."
No resolution was reached regarding that point, but the mayor summed up the discussion on an ominous note.
Noting that further talks regarding the utility and storm response are essential, and alluding to his experiences leading the town during last year's Irene and Snowtober and this year's superstorm and nor'easter, Barberio said an eye must be kept on the future.
"We're going to look into it all," the mayor said regarding the need to be ready to deal with disasters. "We're getting megastorms in Parsippany."