For five days during Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, some residents in Parsippany's Puddingstone neighborhood were trapped in their homes without power by downed wires for five days. The Town Council heard from one of those citizens, who insisted there is a need for better communications between town agencies and power companies during emergency situations.
Judy Foster made her remarks during the public comment portion of its agenda meeting Tuesday night at Town Hall.
Foster described how Sandy presented a frightening, potentially dangerous situation for those who live in Parsippany's southwesternmost section.
"In Puddingstone Heights, there is one road in and one road out," she said. "We are a community of about 100 homes with one single-access road."
Foster recalled that after Sandy struck, the area lost electricity.
"About a quarter of our homes were blocked in," she said. "There was no power and no means of egress until Friday night. It was clear there was no way a fire truck could get into our community because of live power lines."
She noted that Town Hall stated that Puddingstone was on its radar—but believes that her neighborhood was overlooked.
"There's a big difference between Puddingstone Road and Puddingstone Heights," Foster said. "There is no access between the two."
Mayor James Barberio, at the Nov. 20 council meeting, said power company Jersey Central Power and Light rescued those trapped in the neighborhood. At the body's Nov. 27 gathering, he conceded that it took the utility crews five days to get there.
Foster referenced the mayor's statements, thanking him for coming to Puddingstone Heights on the Friday that power lines were removed, freeing the residents.
She also thanked township Parks and Forestry workers, who, she said, "wanted to take trees down" but couldn't because of live wires and because JCP&L had not cut power to the wires. As the day began to darken, she said forestry crews decided to go forward with tree trimming.
Though residents were freed from their cold, dark homes five days after Sandy hit, Foster said that another week went by—a total of 12 days—before electricity was restored to area homes.
"We're grateful it wasn't worse," she said, adding that residents are aware that those in South Jersey and areas of New York endured much greater hardships. "Still, it was very frustrating for us.
"What we learned: There are a lot of people who are very responsive," Foster said. "Rescue and Recovery assured us they would be able to handle emergencies. [Police officers made some residents feel] they were being listened to. But there was a major problem with lack of coordination [between the municipality, the county and corporations."
Foster criticized the utility company for its "antiquated system" and for its priorities.
"We were told Puddingstone is not a first priority," she said. "We get that, but at some point, we should have had more responsiveness. We're an
elderly community, [and some residents are] not particulary tech savvy."
Having a warming station in the western area of Parsippany may have helped, Foster suggested.
"A station in Lake Hiawatha doesn't help those in [Puddingstone and the Randolph/Morris Plains sections of the township]," she asserted. "We need better communication across all services."
Foster then addressed Barberio.
"Mayor, with all due respect, I know you did the best you could. But we need more council members and more representative council members. We need to change our representative form of government... wards and a broader council."
The mayor shook his head and said that matter could be discussed at a later date.
Council member Paul Carifi Jr. called the Puddingstone situation "unacceptable."
"Something needs to be done to get JCP&L to get their crews there to cut off the power so our crews can clear roadways," he said.
Councilman Michael dePierro had another idea.
"Every resident should have a phone number for the [Office of Emergency Management] Command Center," said the veteran lawmaker. They're communicating with JCP&L. You folks in the sticks [and] every resident should know where to call to get an update or make sure we're aware of problems."
Council member Jonathan Nelson, who resides in western Parsippany near Puddingstone asked if a JCP&L representative could be invited—or subpoenaed, if necessary—to come and answer questions before the council and the public.
"I saw Virginia [utility] trucks sitting there for days on end doing nothing," Nelson said. "I have a lot of questions for JCP&L."
Mayor Barberio frowned at the question.
"Subpoenaing JCP&L...I don't think that's necessary," he said. "County OEM will have representatives from JCP&L and all council members will be invited to that meeting."
Nelson later said that he still favors bringing utility representatives to Town Hall so that residents can have their questions answered directly.
Barberio said he agreed with Councilman dePierro regarding giving residents the ability to contact Command Center.
"In regard to trees being down, 19 mayors at [a recent] mayors' meeting discussed problems with JCP&L and [the Board of Public Utilities]. We have equipment and trees [to remove], but we can't touch them according to BPU rules. We're making recommendations to BPU to train our workers so that if there is a storm, we can clear roadways."
The mayor also said he noticed many redundancies in storm response procedures that could be addressed by having township workers deal with emergency tree removals.
"Nobody knows the town better than our workers," he said. "Who can better get you to a place than our town workers?"
Barberio said Sandy was different from any storm that he had ever seen, which made it educational for him, for OEM and utilities.
"I do agree, Judy," said the mayor. "Going forward, the council is going to be [more] involved."