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Bedford's town manager frustrated with NSTAR's communications

NSTAR believes it did a good job before, during, after storm

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Tree and utility workers were working on Fox Run Road in Bedford on Wednesday as utility poles, lines and a transformer went down when tree fell down during the heavy winds and rains of Hurricane Sandy on Monday. (Eileen Kennedy/Wicked Local staff photo)

By Eileen Kennedy/
Wicked Local Lexington Posted
Nov 01, 2012

Bedford, Mass. — As NSTAR’s response to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy winds down in Bedford tonight, the utility has said it commends all its workers and that it communicated well with the towns as it worked to restore power.

NSTAR officials have said that all their customers will have power by 11 this evening, and as of 8:30 p.m., the company showed 89 people remained without power.

But Bedford Town Manager Richard Reed said this evening that while the work is so much further along than it was even Wednesday afternoon, he felt that he did not get accurate information from NSTAR about the number of crews responding each day, whether certain portions of town had actually been restored, or good estimates on when power would be restored in certain places.

“I know they’re trying,” Reed said. “I just didn’t feel that I could trust the information I received, and it made it very difficult for us.”

Reed said he a number of instances over the last few days where NSTAR officials tasked as liaisons with the town told him certain areas had power restored, but it would turn out not to be the case when Bedford employees checked the area.

He also found that the numbers that he could access online as a municipal official from NSTAR often did not match the numbers on the company’s public outage website.

“It was very frustrating not to be able to give residents an answer when they called about their power,” he said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t want to tell them, it was because we didn’t have the information to give them.”

Reed said power was restored to the schools on Tuesday, but then Tuesday evening three of the four schools were without power.

“I will say there was much more coordination about the town’s important facilities and for the town’s infrastructure,” he said. When Bedford notified NSTAR that without power to the schools Tuesday night, it might mean there would be no school on Wednesday, the company paid attention and restored power to them. It also made the sewer pumping stations a priority, Reed said.

However, NSTAR said today that it had worked very hard at communicating with towns during the storm and after it, and that it had deployed crews throughout the area before the storm hit.

NSTAR said this evening that since the storm hit, its crews restored power to nearly 400.000 customers who had lost electricity throughout the area.

At the peak of the storm on Monday night, 44 percent of the 6,052 NSTAR customers in Bedford were without power.

“As our crews remain intensely focused on the remaining damage and outages caused by Sandy, we want to commend all of our NSTAR workers and contractors on their outstanding work,” said Werner Schweiger, president of NSTAR Electric, in a written statement. “We expect a lot from everyone involved in our restoration efforts because our customers deserve nothing less, and our workers were up to the task.”

The company also said that local emergency officials “have had unprecedented access to information specific to their communities through new web-based tools and an increased role of the company’s community liaisons.”

NSTAR officials said while there’s always room for improvements to be made to new systems put in place for emergency response, “the feedback NSTAR has been receiving has been very positive.”

At least one municipal official said he thought that the company did a good job sharing information with communities.

“NSTAR’s communication and coordination efforts before, during and after Hurricane Sandy have been extremely helpful to us,” said George Fernandes, head of Cambridge’s electrical department. “They’ve made great strides in keeping us in the loop on their plans, acting quickly on our requests, and being responsive to the needs of our citizens.”

Reed said he understood that the company would prioritize larger areas where a lot of customers could have their power restored.

“It’s very frustrating because it’s our job to make sure the community gets its fair share of services,” Reed said.

Once restoration is complete in Massachusetts, NSTAR officials said its crews will head south to assist crews from another utility, Connecticut Light & Power.