Tag Archives: Tropical storm Isaias

[OPINION] Chop Down Current Tree Law

In the wake of last month’s storms — Isaias and an unnamed one that caused massive damage — many Westporters learned that if a neighbor’s tree lands on your property (or house), and you have not warned him or her about the danger, you are responsible for removing it.

And for repairing any damage on your property.

Alert — and concerned — “06880” reader Marliese Aguele writes:

The law that requires a neighbor to remove and pay for a fallen tree is most unfair. It puts the burden and expense on somebody else.

No more free rides. I wanat the law be changed immediately. Owners make no effort to pay, or offer any help. This is unacceptable to a neighbor, who takes care by trimming his own trees.

Because residents know they are not liable to pay for the removal of their fallen trees on the neighbor’s property, they have no incentive to take care of them.

Falling trees do not respect property lines.(Photo/John Kantor)

I have had personal experience. A friend lives in a small house near the beach, with a neighbor located on an elevated property behind him. She has refused for over 20 years to trim her tree. It gets larger every year. He is struggling financially. He constantly worries that should the huge tree fall, his house and cars will be destroyed, and maybe the lives of his family.

A property owner must be responsible to trim his trees regularly to avoid unfair arboreal problems, making it easier for the town to deal with overgrown branches entangled in communication and electric power lines, incurring major expenses to the town and heavy losses to its citizens.

With predictions of more frequent storms in the future, it is in the best interest for citizens to do their share, helping with an already stressed town budget.

I have decided, at great expense, to have several tall trees removed. I can no longer live with the fear, and alone, worrying if my trees should fall and destroy my home, or were to fall on a neighbor’s house.

It is time to change the law. Someone who owns a tree should be responsible for removing the debris, and pay for all damage caused to a neighbor’s property.

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.”

Isiais: By The Numbers

Ten days after Tropical Storm Isaias ravaged our town, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, the Department of Public Works and Westport Emergency Response Team report:

The Westport Fire Department responded to 581 incidents, almost 500% of their normal call volume. WFD also responded to at least 30 carbon monoxide incidents, the first time the department received so many calls of this type. In response, the WFD and the Fire Marshal have been increasing their education and outreach regarding the proper usage of generators.

From 1 p.m. Tuesday, August 4 through 1 a.m. Wednesday, the Westport Police Department logged 230 calls for service. 155 of them came at the height of the storm, 2 p.m.. Over the following 24 hours, the WPD answered 779 phone calls, 284 of them on the 911 line. The department also deployed temporary traffic control signage at around 15 major intersections throughout the course of the storm.

The Department of Public Works cleared 304 tree issues. They continue their cleaning debris from 125 miles of town-owned roadways, in addition to all town-owned Parks and Recreation facilities. The DPW expects to spend 2 weeks cleaning up town property, most of which could not commence until Eversource cleared and de-energized their wires.

DPW’s role is to remove trees and debris from the town’s right of way. DPW is not doing curbside pick-up of yard waste. Residents should not put personal yard waste and debris curbside. The town’s Yard Waste Site at 180 Bayberry Lane is open for personal yard debris. Normal hours are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to noon. Tomorrow (August 15), the yard waste site stays open until 3 p.m.

The Department of Human Services worked around the clock, in collaboration with emergency personnel, to address storm-related concerns from upwards of 400 households. DHS received over 150 calls and emails, and made over 40 home visits for welfare checks and/or provide food service.

Westport’s Department of Human Services brought food, water (and toilet paper) to elderly residents trapped behind this tree on Rocky Ridge Road.

If you have a vulnerable resident in the home, or know seniors who live alone or whose main caregiver is also elderly, register that individual with the DHS. Call 203-341-1073, so the department can proactively follow up with him or her during future emergencies.

The number of town-wide emails and phone calls received is over triple the normal volume. Town personnel collaborated and triaged those responses as quickly as possible. In addition, emergency and general information was dispersed via Nixle alerts, daily press releases, social media posts and through the town radio station, WWPT 90.3FM.

Residents can stay connected with the town by signing up for emergency alerts and press notifications, and following the town on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Residents are urged to preset their radio to 90.3 FM in case of emergency.

As part of emergency incident standard procedures, the Town Emergency Operations Command Team will debrief and discuss the process, protocols and communications that occurred during Isaias. Each member will make recommendations for improved procedures during future emergency incidents.

Marpe adds: “There were many examples of neighbors helping neighbors and people stepping up to help in the midst of the emergency. Most Westporters came together and demonstrated resilience and an inherent capacity to help those around them. I want to express my deepest gratitude to those residents and town employees who exhibited patience, cooperation and understanding under very trying circumstances.”

The night after 98% of Westport lost power, an impromptu concert popped up on Jesup Green. (Photos/Miggs Burroughs)

[OPINION] Disaster Planning Is Imperative

Larry Perlstein is a long-time Westport resident, and Staples High School graduate. He cares full-time for his wife and 12-year-old daughter, and authors a blog for caregivers

This is a rant. I hope this does not provoke ire. I’m not pointing a finger at anyone, any government or any specific company. But I am in the midst of unprecedented craziness between the pandemic, the storm, the heat wave, etc. My emotions are running wild, so please hear me out — and be civil.

Can we all agree that disaster planning in general is a disaster? Having lived in Westport or nearby since 1970 (minus 10 years in the San Francisco Bay Area), I notice we recover quickly after a storm only when we are lucky — not because we were prepared.

For example, I live near a road that is a nightmare after any significant storm. Isaias brought down 5 or 6 large trees. Eversource regularly trims the trees, and owners of the multi-million-dollar houses take good care of their properties. But it’s to no avail. The road gets battered. There’s no taming Mother Nature, and no guessing what damage might occur.

Days after Isaias, Avery Place remained blocked by downed wires and limbs. (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

After each storm we hear the same complaints, and go through the same discussions: The forecast was wrong. The utilities were slow to respond. The governor is angry at the utilities. The town was hardest hit and angry at the utilities. The people living on private roads (60% of Westport) don’t get enough attention from the town. Utility, cable and phone support lines are overloaded or non-existent. People ignore warnings to avoid downed lines. And so on.

In my case, 3 trees fell. They took down all my power, cable and phone lines, and blocked my driveway. I called the police non-emergency number 2 days after the storm, alerting them that wires were down across my road, and that my family (including my disabled wife and 12-year-old daughter) were essentially trapped in the house.

Larry Perlstein and his wife Jacquie.

The response was disheartening. The officer said it wasn’t worth putting tape across the road because people tear it down or drive over it, and they did not have any lists of contractors or individuals who might be able to cut us out. Basically, it is what it is.

Thankfully I had a generator and gas. A neighbor helped me find a great tree company. After 2 days, we extricated oruselves.

I suggest that we stop thinking we can develop grand disaster plans, and instead focus on practical strategies that will improve our resilience.

Here’s a list of services that the state and town might provide that would be useful after a storm. I’m sure some of these things exist, and some might be impossible. But we should use this as a starting point:

  • Police and fire departments should have access to a list of tree and electrical contractors that can be provided to homeowners. The list should include those willing to donate services for low-income households.
  • Town emergency messages should include areas/roads to avoid, gas stations and grocery stores that are open, cell services that are impacted, and outage reporting numbers for Eversource, Optimum, Frontier, etc.
  • The state should provide low-interest loans or grants to acquire and install generators for families with disabled or elderly members, and critical facilities and businesses such as senior centers, gas stations and grocery markets.
  • The state should offer emergency relief for homeowners with significant tree damage. Most homeowner insurance plans offer only $500 for a tree that might cost $2500+ to take down. California offers earthquake insurance. Why can’t Connecticut have tree damage insurance?

Tree damage from storms is an ongoing concern. (Photo/C. Swan)

  • The town should have backup generator capability for critical cell towers. Thank god for my good old Frontier copper landline that kept working even with my lines down.
  • The state should regulate Altice’s internet business to ensure accelerated investment in maintaining/upgrading existing infrastructure, and monitor their storm response. I never did find a way to report an outage.
  • Local radio stations such as WICC, WEBE, and WEZN should be enlisted to provide road closure and other emergency information, and someone should figure out what the “Emergency Alert System” can actually be used for. I continued to hear tests on my battery powered radio, but no actual alerts.
  • The town’s Department of Human Services should be sufficiently staffed (with volunteers if necessary) to handle incoming requests for support, and proactive outreach to the voluntary disability registry. Volunteer groups that provided amazing support during the early days of the pandemic should be coordinated by this office to supply gas, food, water, etc., to households unable to do it themselves.

Many more things can be done, but I’ve tried to keep the list reasonable. Having watched and participated in the volunteer efforts that sprang up after the start of the pandemic, I’m certain that with a little centralized organization and some political will on behalf of the town and state, we can make recovery from storms more palatable.

One last note: While our state and local representatives rake Eversource over the coals (again), I urge everyone to remember that the workers who fix our problems have likely left their own families in the middle of their own problems. These folks are our current heroes. I can’t wait to hug one of those heroes (from a distance) when my power gets restored.

A crew from Canada connects Westport to the world. (Photo/Doerte Inett)

Giving Thanks, For …

Today is the day nearly every Westporter is supposed to have power.

Of course, we are all supposed to wear masks, maintain social distance, and walk facing traffic too. So I’m not holding my breath.

But as someone who did get the juice back Saturday afternoon, I know the feeling of flipping a switch, and watching lights actually come on.

Not to mention the joy of a hot shower, a cold freezer, a phone that shows 4 bars and a computer that connects to the internet.

A crew from Canada connects us to the world. (Photo/Doerte Inett)

Of all of those things, I think that last one — being able to send emails, read the news, and post to “06880” without a jury-rigged tin cup and wire — is the most important to me. It may say something about my values, or life in Westport in 2020, but of all the things I can’t live without, connectivity tops the list.

What about you? What did you miss most in the long days after Isaias? What was the first thing you did after all those lights, appliances and things you never realized need electricity clicked on?

What did you learn — about yourself, your family and your town — over the past week?

Click “Comments” to share. It’s easy, now that we are back to normal.

Or as normal as things get, in this year we will never forget.

Roundup: Library, Winfield Deli, Wedding, More


The Westport Library — the town’s savior after tropical storm Isaias, thanks to its life-giving free WiFi available on Jesup Green and in the upper parking lot — reopened yesterday, primarily for device-charging and internet access.

The great space looked different. Users wore masks, and were spaced far apart. Most “touch surfaces” are unavailable.

But it was another godsend for Westporters. No one complained.

The library will be open again today from 12 noon to 6 p.m., for browsing and device-charging. There is curbside service from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

(Photo/Lauren MacNeill)


As soon as Breno Donatti’s phone camera alerted him last night that the power was back on at Winfield Street Coffee, the owner hustled to his Post Road West deli.

He and his staff spent hours cleaning the store, and calling vendors to get deliveries this morning.

“We hope customers hang in there. We may not have some items, but we’re replacing all of the food inventory.”

What a year this has been, for small businesses like Winfield Street. And what great lengths they go to serve us, whenever and however they can.


Because of COVID, it was already going to be a smaller scale wedding than expected. Then Isaias blew in.

But love conquers all. Despite the devastation (and lack of power), Tammy Barry’s nephew Nicholas married Audrey here on Friday evening.

It was intimate. It was beautiful. It was “love”-ly.

Life may be dark. But we can always find silver linings.


The other day, “06880” ran a photo of signs at the Colony Road/Pumpkin Hill intersection, pleading for Eversource post-Isaias help.

Yesterday, the signs changed. As the one on the left noted, they are now “signs of happiness.”

(Photo/Wendy Cusick)


Meanwhile, I’m not sure if this sign predates Isaias, or has been up for a while. But its message is powerful.

The free masks are equally helpful too.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)


And finally …

Pics Of The Day #1209

Two views of Westport, 4 days after tropical storm Isaias rolled through town:

The National Guard rolls in on Greenlea Lane …  (Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

… and Ellen Wentworth took this intriguing view of Jesup Green today, while enjoying a cool breeze (and the Westport Library’s WiFi)

Town Officials: Prepare For Isaias

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Westport’s Emergency Management Team are watching a tropical storm, expected to strike here tomorrow (Tuesday). They say:

We ask the community to begin preparations now, and ensure they have a plan of action in place for themselves, their families and/or their business.

Fire Chief Robert Yost says: “Avoid traveling and plan to be home by Tuesday afternoon as we expect damaging winds and flooding. Now is the time to secure your home: check sump pumps, clear gutters, secure your outdoor furniture, BBQs and loose objects.”

Isaias is a tropical storm, not a hurricane. This is the result of Superstorm Sandy, in 2012.

Expect flash flooding due to heavy rains.

⚠️   Seek shelter and avoid traveling once rain and storm winds start.

🚧 Do not walk or drive through flood waters.

Never attempt to drive on or through a flooded road.

🏠 If your building floods, move to a higher floor but do not enter a closed attic.

According to the National Weather Service, Tropical Storm Isaias is now forecast to make its closest approach early Tuesday. Tropical storm force winds are expected to arrive a few hours later, at approximately 2 p.m. The latest model indicates that the tropical storm will pack sustained winds of 40-50 MPH, with gusts to 70 MPH when it arrives.

The primary threat from Isaias still appears to be from strong winds. Based on the current NHC forecast we can expect a high end moderate to borderline major impact to trees and power lines.

As with all dying tropical systems there is also the risk for severe thunderstorms, and a few weak tornadoes. The tropical storm will also be accompanied by some heavy rain of 2-4 inches.  Minor to moderate flooding is also possible.

Myrtle Avenue flooding in 2018.

The updated arrival timing brings the strongest winds into the coast at low tide. Therefore, only minor coastal flooding is expected, which may inundate a few low lying coastal roads with wave splash.

Downed power lines can be deadly. Always assume they are live, and avoid going near them or anything in contact with them.

Sign up for emergency notifications by registering at www.nixle.com, or texting “06880” to 888777 from your mobile phone.