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The View From CL&P

I’ve known Chris Swan for over 40 years — ever since he was a star soccer player a few years ahead of me at Staples.

From time to time, Chris gets his name in the paper.  As director of municipal relations and siting for Connecticut Light and Power, he’s one of the go-to guys for things like transmission projects, anywhere from Long Island Sound to the Canadian border.

Chris has worked for CL&P since 1976 — a few years after graduating from Union.  He remembers his big storm duty assignments well:  9 straight days during Hurricane Gloria in 1985; a week in a 1987 snowstorm; another week during back-to-back 2006 nor’easters; the December 1992 coastal storm that flooded Main Street, and the Christmas Eve nor’easter in 1993 that wiped out his holiday.

So in the aftermath of last week’s storm — when consumers were irate that that street’s power came on before this one, and Governor Rell has launched an investigation into the utility’s response — I decided to get Chris’ eye-of-the-hurricane thoughts.

(I waited a couple of days, though.  Chris worked 101 hours during and after the storm — a record for him.)

Also chatting with us:  Mitch Gross, CL&P spokesman.

Though power has been restored to 161,000 customers — and at the storm’s peak there were 85,000 outages — that barely crack’s the utility’s Top 25, Mitch said.  Gloria was the worst:  Over 500,000 customers lost power.

That’s little solace to customers in 8 towns in lower Fairfield County.  For them, this unnamed storm tops any list, in terms of damage.

Every storm is different, of course.  This one was trees.  They were everywhere — along with broken poles.

Employees from Terex -- the Westport-based company that makes overhead lifts -- showed up at the Sherwood Island staging area last Friday morning. They thanked CL&P and mutual aid crews from around the region for their help restoring power after the storm.

In Westport, Chris said, 135 to 140 roads were blocked by trees and/or wires.  It is town policy that no emergency worker touches a downed wire until CL&P confirms it’s safe to do so.  And line crews can’t arrive to make that determination if the roads are not clear.  That’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation — one that takes a while to resolve.

Twenty years ago, Chris said, then-police chief Bill Chiarenzelli emphasized “public safety before power restoration.”  Public safety means not just keeping crews and residents safe from wires and limbs, but ensuring that emergency vehicles can get through.

CL&P worked cooperatively with town officials, Chris said.  On Saturday night, he put together a crew to clear North Avenue.  (Workers were pulled off the streets Saturday night, when conditions became too dangerous.)

From Sunday through Wednesday several dedicated crews, each involving utility workers, Public Works employees and tree workers, worked together.

It was a tough storm.  Power is back.  Plenty of people worked long hours, in less than ideal conditions.

So, I asked Chris:  Did you lose power?

He hesitated.  “Actually, no,” he said.  “But I live close to I-95 and a substation.  The closer you are to the sources, the better the chance of not losing electricity.”

Take heart, non-CL&P employees who don’t live near substations:  Chris’s cable was out for nearly 3 days.

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