Tag Archives: Eversource

Roundup: Power Outages, Coleytown Portable, Optimum Bill …

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Eversource continues to restore power to the 1,450-plus customers who lost it in last night’s rain-and-wind storm.

The worst affected area was Hillspoint Road south of the I-95 bridge, down to Soundview Road. 550 customers were affected.

We’re lucky. Most trees still don’t have full leaves. If this happened a few weeks later, the damage could be much worse.

Downed tree, on Hillandale Road. (Photo/Bob
Weingarten)

We’re also lucky that this is spring break for public schools. Easton Road is closed west of North Avenue, with a number of trees down. That would have played havoc with this morning’s bus rides to our 4 North Avenue schools.

Easton Road scene. (Photo/Jeff Mitchell)

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It’s not quite the “Teardown of the Day.”

But work has begun to replace a 1,114-square foot Coleytown Elementary School portable classroom with a more modern, efficient and bigger (2,713 square feet) one.

The classroom — used most recently at Fairfield’s Holland Hill Elementary School — will solve a space crunch, due to increasing enrollment at CES.

Preparing for a new portable classroom at Coleytown Elementary School. (Photo/Jeff Mitchell)

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Matt Murray jut got his Optimum bill. Tucked inside were new “Terms of Service & Information.”

They seemed long. Really long.

Matt spread them out in his kitchen. Then he took out a tape measure.

He was right. Unfolded, they’re 35 inches long.

That’s twice the length of a newborn baby.

Optimum’s “Terms of Service & Information.” (Photo/Matt Murray)

But don’t try to read them all. They’re in a type size Matt estimates at “less than 5-point.”

On the upside, there’s a Spanish-language version on back.

“I get the feeling Optimum really cares about its customers,” Matt says, tongue firmly planted in cheeck. “I can’t figure out why people say such bad things about our cable service provider.”

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The past 2 years have turned the world upside down.

Now Beechwood Arts — the intimate, immersive arts-and-more salon — is back. They’re celebrating the resilience of the human spirt — especially the artistic innovation and reinvention that’s occurred during these upside-down times.

Beechwood’s spring season is called “Upside Down.” Both are hosted by the Westport Library, produced by their superb Verso Studios staff.

On Friday, May 6 (7 p.m.): Dan Tepfer’s #BachUpside Down. He’s performed this innovative project worldwide. He’ll then join internationally famed pianist — and Beechwood co-founder — Frederic Chiu onstage, for a lively conversation.

The following Friday (May 13, 7 p.m.), “GatherRound UpsideDown Art & Story Share” brings the community together. Art will be projected o the Library’s large screen, as artists tell their stories. The first “GatherRound” drew over 200 people.

Click here to register for Dan Tepfer’s #BachUpsideDown. Click here to register for “Gather Round Upside Down Art & Story Share.” For more information, click here.

Note about the logo below: In some Yogic traditions the Tree of Life is turned upside down. The tree exposes its essence — that which grounds it and gives it life. That reflects how this period has caused many artists to tap into their essence, discovering what truly grounds them.

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Jillian Elder — of “Finding Westport” fame — has rolled out new designs.

She’s got new tank tops, t-shirts, hoodies and mugs, all saying “203 Westport.” Click here to see, and order.

She’s also got a rainbow-colored Pride line, with more to come soon. Click here to see, and order.

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Jeff Bullwinkel grew up in Westport. He and his wife spend most of their time in Amsterdam. But they were back this weekend — just in time to enjoy the magnificent cherry trees on their South Compo Road property.

Jeff shares their beauty, as today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Jeff Bullwinkel)

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Every 33 years, 3 of the world’s most popular religions celebrate very important holidays at the same time.

This is one of those rare years. The Christian celebration of Holy Week, Jewish observation of Passover, and Muslim month of Ramadan all coincided this past weekend.

Happy Easter! Chag Sameach! Ramadan Mubarak!

Power Outages Slam Westport

Over 1,450 Westporters — more than 11% of the town — is without power this morning.

Heavy rain and winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour brought tree limbs crashing onto utility lines last night. The worst affected area seems to be Roseville Road.

Westport had more outages than anywhere else in Connecticut.

Eversource says it has extra crews working here. Click on this map for exact locations, and restoration times.

Bury The Wires? Not So Fast!

Recent tree cutting by Eversource and Metro-North at the Westport train station evoked a predictable response: Bury the power lines!

It sounds doable, though probably expensive.

Recent tree removal (and overhead wires) at the Westport train station. (Photo/Matthew Mandell)

But that’s not the only issue. A Westporter with long experience in areas like this writes:

To “burying the lines” — and not just those owned by Eversource, but also phone (now owned by Frontier) and cable (Optimum) — you’d need to:

  • Get all 3 companies working on the project simultaneously
  • Get 100% of every house, building, traffic signal, street light, closed circuit TV camera, fire siren, crosswalk signal, etc., to agree to go underground
  • Every existing overhead service would need to be prepared for the new underground connection in advance (and all work on private property up to and including the meter box and service panel at the home or building is the responsibility of the owner — costing at least several thousand dollars for just a simple home (200 amp, which is not the average with today’s large homes)
  • Once all are agreed 100%, the underground system would be installed in conduits in trenches alongside or within the street, including pad-mounted transformers (boxy containers roughly 3 x 4 feet by 3-foot high, located along the street on the shoulder of the road)
  • Each home or building owner would trench from the transformer pad to the location on the house or building where the meter would be (all trenching on private property is done by the home or building owner’s contractor, paid for by the owner)
  • Once all is ready (as in 100%), the system would then be transferred to the new underground wiring from the overhead
  • Only when all the above is done 100%, and every building is operating on the new underground system (electric, phone and cable), can the old overhead system of wires, poles and transformers be removed.

If all this sounds very complicated, very expensive and nearly impossible: It is!

Which is why the overhead system we look at continues as the source for somewhere around 90% of most towns’ residences and commercial buildings in this area.

Cables on South Compo Road. Burying these lines is far easier said than done. (Photo/Morgan Mermagen)

Train Trees Cut Down

Private property is not the only place where trees are being cut in Westport.

Earlier today, Eversource and Metro-North took down trees in the right-of-way at the railroad station.

Matthew Mandell — an RTM member for the district, and director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce — called it “a great loss to the community. A number of these trees are beautiful in summer. They also obscure part of the tall electric gantry.”

(Photo/Matthew Mandell)

(Photo/Matthew Mandell)

(Photo;Monica Buesser)

 

[OPINION] Tree Trimming Is Overly Aggressive, Environmentally Unsound

Annalise Ferrara moved to Weston 10 years ago from Brooklyn, where she practiced law. She’s enjoyed the town. But recently she and her neighbors — including Red Bee Honey — have noticed plenty of tree-trimming by Eversource. She writes:

Aggressive deforestation is occurring in Connecticut, particularly the historic Bradley Edge Tool Factory District of Weston.

Eversource has been removing essential carbon-eliminating and pollinator vegetation by the hundreds, in an effort to reduce the possibility of power outages.

Instead of trimming trees over the years, they suddenly cut them down, leaving an eyesore of tree stumps littering the properties of tax-paying citizens, and exposing electric towers that are devaluing neighborhoods.

One of my neighbors is a beekeeper and founder of woman-owned Red Bee Honey, a Connecticut state treasure. Her honeybees and the honey they produce are a valuable asset to all of us. Eversource has removed several trees next door, and is planning to remove even more from her property.

These trees are a source of food and medicine for her bees. This will compromise their ability to pollinate the environment, and her ability to run her business.

Connecticut General Statutes Section 16-234 had allowed a utility to remove hazardous trees — any tree or part thereof that is dead, extensively decayed or structurally weak which, if it fails, would endanger the utility’s infrastructure. The law also allowed the utility to prune or remove trees that pose a risk to the reliability of the utility’s infrastructure.

The issue here is who gets to decide whether the tree poses a risk? If it’s a healthy tree, why remove it? Why not just prune it? Eversource has decided it is easier to simply remove all the trees in its path and leave behind the stumps (which they are also allowed to grind down, if they see fit).

It used to be that Eversource could not do any work without first giving notice to the property owner that they had a right to consent, object or modify in writing the proposed pruning or removal. This notice had to include instructions on how to make the objection.

On July 1, 2013, the law changed. Now, Public Act No. 13-298 states that the notice only requires the utility to inform the property owner that they have 10 days in which to file an objection. I was unaware of this change. I wonder how many property owners were?

My neighbor on Lyons Plain Road has 18 tree stumps on her front lawn. Unfortunately, she doesn’t live in her house right now. She is a senior citizen and is in California. I don’t suppose Eversource knew that. How is it possible that all of those trees posed a risk to Eversource’s infrastructures?

Another neighbor’s property runs from Lyons Plain down River Road. The house was buried behind beautiful tall hickories but now sits completely exposed. Not one tree remains. Who knew there was a tall electric tower behind their house?

The transmission tower in Westonm, after cutting.,

I doubt all their trees posed a hazard. Wouldn’t it have been wiser and better for the environment to simply have pruned all these trees? Was there financial gain for someone in salvaging the wood, or in the contract for removing the trees? Something is wrong with this picture.

It is possible for Eversource to remedy some of what it has done? United Illuminated’s Vegetation Management Plan allows for stump grinding and replanting site-appropriate trees on a case-by-case basis. This might help my neighbor with the 18 stumps regain her lawn, the Red Bee Honey farm get some trees back, and the power tower to be hidden again.

If Eversource isn’t stopped our beautiful state will be beautiful no more, and our homes will lose their value. This deforestation must stop. Something must be done. I implore our legislators and governor to do something to curtail Eversource.

“06880” says: The issue is not so “cut” and dried. Apparently the need to obtain permission applied only to distribution circuits (35 kV and lower voltage typically found on the street — not transmission circuits (69 kV up to 345 kV). These are almost always located on rights of way, and permission was never required there.

The high-voltage tower has been in Weston for decades. The vegetation — not taken care of earlier — may have grown to threaten the lines supported by the towers.

Eversource now leaves notices on doors, informing residents that tree trimming is cutting. They also meet with first selectmen or their designees to discuss the coming year’s tree trimming planned by circuit (though not necessarily detailing the type of trimming required).

Eversource: Source Of Taxes

The other day, “06880” listed our town’s top 10 taxpayers.

At the top of the list — by a wide margin — was Connecticut Light & Power (now called Eversource).

The utility’s personal property assessment is $140,509,070. That’s nearly double the #2 taxpayer, 60 Nyala Farms Road LLC (the office complex owner near I-95 Exit 18 owns real estate assessed at $83,338,970).

So what exactly does Eversource own?

A longtime Westport resident and retired utility director explains that it all starts with substations.

Eversource substation on South Compo Road between I-95 and the Metro-North tracks, as seen from Narrow Rocks Road.

The Sherwood substation, for example, sits on about 1.5 acres of land, bought in 2004. There’s also a transmission line that runs under state (Route 1) or town roads (Imperial Avenue from the old State Cleaners to the Westport Woman’s Club overflow parking lot, then under the Saugatuck River to the Assumption Church parking lot, under Lincoln Street and back to the Post Road).

So Eversource either had rights to locate within state and town roadways as a public utility, or when splice vaults had to locate off the roadway, they bought easement rights or “ownership” of the eased area on private property (for example, Assumption Church’s parking lot, the parking lot of the former Saab dealership on Post Road West, the parking lot between Balducci’s and Ulta, and Vautrin Auto’s parking lot).

Those easements were bought for an average of $250,000 each from the property owners.

Other substations include the one behind Coffee An’, built in the 1930’s; Compo Road South, between I-95 and the Metro-North train tracks — plus all overhead and underground wires, poles, transformer vaults, etc.

The Main Street substation, behind Coffee An’.

Big ticket items also include the existing double 115 kV overhead transmission lines on either side of the railroad right-of-way, from Fairfield to Norwalk.

Eversource has been taxpayer #1, ever since the transmission underground project went into service around 2008. They’ll be way ahead of Nyala for years to come.

Roundup: Teardowns, Trees, Tony La Russa, More


Yesterday’s Roundup noted the upcoming demolition of 14 Hillandale Road — writer A.E. Hotchner’s longtime home — as part of the construction of Authors Way, a new 4-house subdivision.

Developer Rick Benson says that while the Historic District Commission permit allows teardown any time after Monday (January 11), the final Planning & Zoning Commission hearing is next Thursday (January 14). It’s unlikely, he says, that demolition work will start for a few weeks.

He notes that the house lacks a satisfactory foundation; has no full cellar, first floor bathroom, insulation or central HV/AC system, and has rusted 1920 iron windows.

In addition, Benson says, it lands in the setbacks of the new lot layouts.

14 Hillandale Road


Also slated to be torn down: 27 Gorham Avenue. The home was built in 1933.

27 Gorham Avenue (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)


David Meth writes:

“On Wednesday night, to take a break from the dull routine of daily life and obscene anxiety of politics and pandemic, and actually run away from the assault of the news, a friend and I decided to go out for a delicious pizza at Ignazio’s next to the Sherwood Diner.

“It made the day, because it reminded us of the importance of a pizza and conversation, a glass of beer or wine, a burger at the diner, cup of coffee at the local café … just getting together and talking to one another without devices and electronic interruptions is so wonderfully refreshing and important—and how much we miss the tradition and sense of community of just being with friends, even strangers, to remember who we are as people.”

Remember normal life?


Residents of the Punch Bowl/Gault Park area have noticed a number of trees cut down recently — and others marked with the tape that means their end is near too.

Town tree warden Bruce Lindsay says it’s part of Eversource’s effort to target high-risk trees that could topple in a storm. Many are slender white pines.

The neighborhood bordered by Cross Highway and Weston Road suffered severe damage — including extended power outages — during August’s Tropical Storm Isaias.

Eversource analyzes circuit by circuit performance, then targets the circuits or portions with the most tree-related outages. They then identify trees needing trimming or removal.

Trees account for up to 90% of all outages in Eversource’s system.

(Photo/Joyce Backman)

Tony La Russa is coming to the Westport Library

Well, not really. It’s a livestream, and it’s not likely the Major League Baseball Hall of Famer will be talking from the Westport Library studio.

But he’ll be joined by a good friend — longtime Westporter Steve Parrish — and the Library is sponsoring the event. So — even thought fans can join from anywhere in the world — it does count as “ours.”

The event is set for Tuesday, January 26 (7 p.m.). La Russa will chat about his World Series victories, tell classic baseball stories, and describe his role as new manager of the Chicago White Sox.

Click here to register for the free program.

Tony La Russa


And finally … the War of 1812 roared back in the news this week. That’s the last time — until Wednesday — that the US Capitol suffered a significant breach from opponents of democracy.

On this day in 1815, the last major engagement of that war ended. American forces defeated the British in the bloody Battle of New Orleans.

Andrew Jackson and a ragtag group of frontiersmen, slaves, Indians and pirates held off, then inflicted tremendous damage on a much larger and better trained British force intent on capturing the important port.

In just over 30 minutes, the Americans suffered 60 casualties — and killed 2,000 British.

Jackson became a national hero, and set out on a path to the presidency. However, the battle was for naught. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, had been signed 18 days earlier. Word had not yet reached the US from Europe.

Oh, The Weather Outside (May Be) Frightful

An ominous phone alert from Eversource today warned customers to be prepared to lose power from a Christmas Eve storm. Heavy rain and winds gusting to 70 miles an hour were mentioned — though that was not on the Weather Channel forecast.

Fortunately, temperatures will be in the 50s.

The utility is planning for a Level 4 emergency. That means 10% to 29% of customers could lose power. Translation: 125,000 to 380,000 outages, with 1,500 to 10,000 trouble spots.

Restoration for a Level 4 event can range from 2 to 6 days.

Rest assured, though: Eversource has canceled vacations for its crews. They’ll be standing by.

So on Thursday, when you lay out milk and cookies for Santa: Charge your devices!

Isaias: Lessons Learned

Next month (November 9, 6 p.m., online), the Westport Emergency Management Team will discuss its response to Tropical Isaias.

Meanwhile, a 15-page report on the storm and its aftermath has been posted on the town website.

It’s a fascinating document. From acknowledging the unique challenges of responding to a major weather event during a pandemic, to statistics on the thousands of phone calls and incident reports that poured in to first responders, and nuggets like the importance of hiring a retired Eversource engineer (and Westport resident) to lend expertise, the report is a blueprint for what went right during the August storm.

And what did not go so well.

Several days after Isaias, this was still the scene on Charcoal Hill Road. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)

The document summarizes challenges, including staffing, technology, data and reporting, call dispatching, WiFi and charging stations.

It concludes with “Lessons Learned.” They include:

  • The importance of flexibility. For example, Westport planned for a flood event. Isaias’ damage came mainly from wind.
  • Anticipating that technology will fail. Downed wires and power outages rendered cell phones inoperable. Backup plans are always needed.
  • The importance of advertising Staples High School radio station WWPT (90.3 FM) as a resource, and reminding residents to have a radio at home — with batteries.
  • Aggressive tree pruning and removal “should be more seriously considered.”
  • Continued participation in regional emergency response drills. These simulate multiple simultaneous crises, and encourage creative solutions.
  • Nixle “is best used for short concise emergency notifications.”
  • The Police Department is acquiring more emergency signs.

Cones — not signs — confounded drivers on Post Road West. (Photo/Leah Nash)

Among the specific recommendations:

  • Developing a plan for technology failure — specifically, internet issues.
  • Improving senior-level communications and relationships with Eversource, cable and telephone utilities, and especially internet and wireless carriers.
  • Continuing to urge residents and businesses to sign up for town news, and follow the town on social media.
  • Establishing a town-wide mailing with emergency and preparedness information.
  • Establishing an annual plan for community preparedness educaiton.
  • Sending all department supervisors — not just Fire Department personnel — to national emergency training.
  • Developing a shared Excel file for tracking and coordinating road closures and downed wires, between departments.
  • Updating the Local Emergency Operation Plan, and dedicating time for all departments to train.
  • Investing in minor technical improvements to WWPT-FM.
  • Closing all Parks and Recreation facilities immediately upon advice of incoming storms, and reopening them only after each location has been deemed safe.

Click here for the full Emergency Management Team Isaias after-action report.

(The Emergency Management Team meeting on November 9 will be livestreamed on www.westportct.gov, and broadcast on Optimum channel 79 and Frontier channel 6020. Members of the public may submit questions and comments to webmaster@westportct.gov with the subject line “Storm Isaias After-Action Meeting” before November 9. Relevant uestions and comments received during the public comment portion of the meeting will be read aloud.)

It took a while for utility crews to arrive in Westport. The post-Isaias report recommends better communication with utilities and technology companies. (Photo/Peter Nussbaum)

Optimum, Eversource: An Industry Insider’s Insights

It’s been more than a month since Tropical Isaias plunged Westport into darkness — and hammered our internet service too.

Opinions of public utilities like Eversource — and probably-should-be-regulated-as-a-public-utility like Optimum — have moved from rage to simmering anger. An “06880” story earlier this month about the cable monopoly drew 160 brutal comments. No one defended them.

Readers across the tri-state area described harrowing encounters with Optimum and its owner, Altice. Most spoke as dissatisfied customers.

Richard Guha speaks as an industry executive.

He’s lived in Weston twice, most recently since 1996. He’s worked as president of Reliant Energy in Houston, one of the nation’s largest combination utilities. Before that he was chief marketing officer of MediaOne in Boston — now part of Comcast, and the first to launch “broadband” in the world.

Eversource and Optimum’s response after Isaias was “disastrous,” he says. While losing power, phone and internet service is inconvenient — particularly because many area residents lack adequate cell phone reception to begin with — it can also be life-threatening.

Grove Point Road offered one example off Isaias’ devastation. (Photo/John Kantor)

Guha himself had to drive someone to the emergency room, because he could not call an ambulance.

He cites one example, from Lyons Plains Road. From August 4 through 24, he had a long series of frustrating encounters with Optimum. From setting up an appointment for cable reconnection to technicians who failed to show up for appointments, then appeared without the correct equipment, Guha found customer service lacking at every level.

Multiply that by thousands, and the problem is clear.

Based on Guha’s own experience — and confidential interviews with service technicians — he offers a peek behind the cable curtain.

In a drive to cut costs, Guha says, Optimum has reduced equipment and staff to “a bare minimum.” It’s sufficient for regular maintenance, but not for unusual repair loads.

For example, a few years ago there were 150 bucket trucks in Fairfield County. Now there are 10.

While much of the initial disconnections resulted from or had the same causes as power outages, he says, the reconnection process has been “staggeringly poor, inefficient and dishonest.”

Customer service representatives were so overloaded that not enough were available to answer phone calls for any reason. (“This may also have been deliberate,” he says, “to shield them from customer anger, and then quitting.”)

Customers were forced to send online messages — a huge challenge without internet — which allows a single representative to deal with multiple customers. Responses were slow.

Representatives did not seem to have a full picture of what was happening. Or they were too overloaded to look. Or they simply deflected questions, by making up answers.

Service technicians told Guha that when someone contacted Optimum to set up an appointment, the representative simply promised a slot — “to get the customer off for a few days.”

An Optimum email confirmed a service call — for the previous day.

Service techs were given calls to make with “little logic,” Guha reports. They were assigned too many calls to make each day. But there was no flexibility for them to call in and get reassigned.

Often the wrong equipment was sent to an address, even if the correct piece had been specified.

Eversource’s issues and inactions, meanwhile, are different. The best way to deal with power outages, Guha says, is to minimize them in the first place. Clearing trees and brush is the most important tool.

(Of course, much of Connecticut has too many shallow rooted trees, which are vulnerable to strong winds and rain. Guha suggests restrictions on tree planting in the state.)

When he was in the cable and energy businesses, most lines were laid in buried trenches. Trimming, however, was a priority.

It is expensive, and unpopular when it is happening. However, he notes, “over time it is more expensive to the local economy not to do it.”

The costs of not trimming trees — as shown here after Isaias, on Charcoal Hill Road — are high. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)

Guha notes that putting in cables is also retroactive, particularly in wooded areas. However, he says, it pays the company back over time, in savings on maintenance and repairs. New technology can reduce the cost.

The biggest benefits lie in economic strength — and national security. “The vulnerability of infrastructure is extremely dangerous,” Guha warns, including health and risk to life.

Even at $1 million per mile, the cost of one F-35 would pay for 400,000 miles of trenching, he says.

He uses another military analogy. For Optimum and Eversource to cut their equipment so extensively is like the military saying, “We don’t need our tanks now, so we’ll get rid of them. If we have a war, we’ll get them back.”

Guha realizes that none of this is new. Everything he describes has been written about before.

Yet after every disaster, and every hearing, nothing happens.

“The same issue affects all physical infrastructure,” Guha says. “Whether it is roads, bridges, tunnels, rail, communication or energy, if it is not constantly improved, it steadily falls behind. Minimum maintenance is a recipe for disaster.”

Connecticut legislators have only limited immediate impact on utilities, he says. Regulators and franchising authorities have much more. However, “they often affiliate more closely with those they regulate than the customers they serve.”

Energy, cable and phone companies hire large staffs of regulator and government relations employees. Their job “is to get regulators to think the same way they do.

“They get paid to influence regulators, and can lose their jobs if they do not.

“They rarely lose their jobs.”