Central Hudson customers wait days for power after October storm
ANCRAM–In the wake of the October 29 nor’easter that dumped a foot of heavy wet snow here, some residents of southern Columbia County, particularly those in Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corporation service territory, were without power for five days. Now they wonder how long they might be in the cold and dark when the heavy weather of the real winter arrives.
Slow and inadequate response by Central Hudson to the power problems in Ancram prompted Columbia County Emergency Management Office Director Bill Black and county Board of Supervisors Chairman Roy Brown to file a complaint with the state Public Service Commission (PSC).
But Central Hudson says restoration procedures had to happen in a specific order and utility crews could not skip to outlying areas without having first restored power at core transmission lines and substations.
Central Hudson’s service territory is the Mid-Hudson River Valley, “extending from the suburbs of metropolitan New York City north to the Capital District at Albany,” The utility services about 300,000 electric customers and 75,000 natural gas customers, according to the corporation website www.cenhud.com.
In Columbia County, Central Hudson serves Gallatin and Ancram.
According to an October 30 press release put out by Central Hudson, about “148,000 or nearly half of all Central Hudson customers lost power because of the unusual October snowstorm.” The release goes on to say that “though outages are reported throughout the eight counties it serves, the most damage is concentrated in the southern portion of Central Hudson’s service territory, in Dutchess, Orange and Putnam counties. As of early Sunday morning, Central Hudson estimates that 13 transmission lines, 31 distribution circuits and four substations are out of service due to the damage. In addition, there are hundreds of individual repairs that will need to be completed within local communities and neighborhoods,” said the release.
The New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) reported in an October 30 press release that heavy, wet snow and wind have caused severe and widespread damage to NYSEG’s electricity delivery system — much of the damage the result of falling tree limbs and trees — leaving about 82,000 NYSEG customers in the company’s Brewster, Liberty and Mechanicville operating divisions without power. Much of Columbia County, except for the west side and a strip across the bottom, is covered by NYSEG’s Mechanicville Division; 2,300 of the utility’s 47,000 customers there were without power.
NYSEG made dry ice and bottled water available at the Copake Town Hall Sunday night, October 30 and again the morning of Monday, October 31. Most if not all Columbia County customers had their service restored by NYSEG by Halloween night.
National Grid, which had 13,000 customers out in the greater Capital Region of upstate New York, which includes much of the western half of Columbia County, had power restored to all its customers by Halloween.
National Grid delivers electricity to about 3.3 million customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.
According to Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin the complaint was lodged with the PSC by county EMO Director Black and Chairman Brown after three days passed without any sign of Central Hudson crews having responded to the southern Columbia County area. The EMO also received conflicting reports from the utility about when the power would be restored, according to Mr. Bassin.
The final straw came when Central Hudson took three days to respond to a “dangerous situation” on State Route 82, a half mile south of the Ancram firehouse. A large tree had fallen and was lying across a primary feeder line, covering two-thirds of the roadway on a blind curve, according to EMO Deputy Director Paul D’Onofrio. Central Hudson had been notified about the situation by the fire chief during the storm Saturday, October 29, then again by County 911 on Sunday, October 30 and finally by the EMO on Tuesday, November 1, before the utility responded.
Procedure does not allow firefighters and/or road crews to go anywhere near electirc lines in such a situation until the power company comes and can verify that the lines are dead or can disconnect power to them.
In another instance, a homeowner on County Route 8 in Ancramdale reported to the utility that a tree limb had brought down one wire and left a second one hanging low over the road in front of the house.
There was no response from the power company and eventually a large truck snagged the low-hanging line and ripped the electrical service hookup right off the resident’s house. The repairs required an electrician called in by the homeowner.
Mr. D’Onofrio said the EMO’s complaint was not based on reports from residents but rather from emergency responders in the Ancram and Copake area, who are on top of the situation.
As a result of the complaint, Central Hudson agreed to meet with county officials later this month.
Mr. D’Onofrio said the county is not out for “blood,” but to find out what happened and fix it so it does not happen again.
John E. Maserjian, director of media relations for Central Hudson, told The Columbia Paper Wednesday, that “we were in touch with the municipality supervisor and the highway superintendent throughout the event to inform them of our progress and we did have crews there from the beginning.”
He said that power must be restored in a systematic, methodical way starting with transmission lines, moving on to substations, moving out along distribution circuits, then spur lines. He said it is “entirely possible” that no one saw crews because they were working on restoring the backbone of the system before addressing areas further out along the lines.
In Ancram, 976 customers and in Gallatin 420 customers were without service as of Sunday morning, October 30, said Mr. Maserjian.
It wasn’t until the evening of Thursday, November 3, that restoration was finished in Ancram. In Gallatin repairs were completed Thursday afternoon. “Crews encountered substantial tree damage throughout Columbia County, and Central Hudson representatives were in regular communications with both town supervisors,” according to Mr. Maserjian.
Central Hudson made no provision to get either dry ice or water to Columbia County residents during the five-day outage, with the nearest distribution centers in Poughkeepsie and Stanfordville. But the county EMO did deliver 25 cases of water to the Ancram firehouse for residents.
Also, in the series of a 9 or 10 press releases issued by Central Hudson following the storm, no mention is ever made of Columbia County.
Still Mr. Maserjian defended Central Hudson’s response, saying that it took the utility less than a week to restore all of its customers despite the fact that the snowstorm was the third most severe storm in Central Hudson history.
He noted that the weather has become stronger and more severe in the last 10 years and with that in mind Central Hudson has increased its investment in tree trimming as well as infrastructure improvement to mitigate potential impacts. “But this storm was not the norm,” he said.
(Diane Valden is an Ancram resident and Central Hudson customer. She was without power for 100 hours as a result of the October 29 snowstorm.–Ed)