Easton officials blast National Grid response

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Wicked Local photo by Susan Parkou Weinstein
A giant limb split from the trunk of a tree on Summer Street in Easton Sunday taking down power lines and blocking travel

By Susan Parkou Weinstein
GateHouse News Service
Sep 09, 2011

Easton — As the last remnants of Tropical Storm Irene were being cleared from the streets this week, local officials took a parting shot at National Grid for its slow response to widespread power outages. Town Administrator David Colton said it was difficult for the town to get any information from National Grid in the aftermath of the Aug. 28th storm.

“It didn’t really matter if you were a big town or a little town, everybody was treated in the same awful way,” Colton said Tuesday night.

Irene’s strong winds knocked out power to an estimated 7,400 customers in Easton alone. By Monday night, power had been restored to only a few thousand homes and businesses.

Some homeowners remained in the dark until Friday.

Public safety and highway workers were on the job around the clock to try to keep main roads open after trees felled power lines but their efforts were hampered by the possibility of live wires.

Fire Chief Thomas Stone, the town’s emergency management director, said he expected National Grid crews to arrive sooner than late Monday based on information provided during the first of several daily conference calls with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency earlier in the day.

Once the local liaison from National Grid arrived in town, the response speeded up, he said.

The town was prepared for the emergency with shelters, generators for the medically needy and crews.

“At no time was any personnel pulled off the street,” he said.

The town has had a comprehensive emergency plan in effect since 1999. The response was updated after 9/11 to address new threats, he said.

 Town Hall lost power during the storm making it difficult to get information out.

Police Chief Allen Krajcik said three dispatchers logged more than 100 calls to the station during the storm with reports of trees on fire, transformers sparking and downed wires.

Wayne Southworth, department of public works director, said all 25 members of his department were at work at 8 a.m. on Sunday and sandbags were ready in the event of flooding.

He said he logged 132 calls to his department by midnight.

Selectman Ellen Barlow said it would help residents to understand the process of responding to a major emergency.

The state Department of Public Utilities will be reviewing National Grid’s performance and tracking its response times. The state levied fines on NStar after the company failed to quickly restore power to numerous homes this past winter.

Selectman Todd Gornstein called National Grid’s behavior “egregious.

“Someone really needs to talk to them,” he said.

Last week, firefighters expressed frustration that National Grid had set up a staging area for road crews at Raynham Park, barely a mile south of the town line.

But those trucks were being routed to Rhode Island while Easton trucks were deployed from Marlboro. Firefighters said they had been unable to reach National Grid on their own emergency responders lines to report downed live wires.

In neighboring Mansfield, which operates its own municipal lighting plant, power was restored to an estimated 4,000 customers within 24 hours and to most within hours of it being knocked out.