Saturday, January 26, 2013
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Bipartisan Senate task force tackles Sandy recovery
NANUET – State Senator David Carlucci chaired a bipartisan, roundtable discussion on Friday to identify problem areas and making changes in planning and responses to weather emergencies, bringing together state and local officials, utility representatives, and heads of emergency services and various service organizations for a task force meeting at the Nanuet Public Library
The Committee included a number of state legislators, county and local municipal officials.
A major complaint among local officials from both Rockland and Westchester officials was an inadequate response by Orange and Rockland Utilities and Con Edison, with several reports of inaccurate information, failures for utilities to communicate updates to local residents and government bodies, and seeming indifference to town and county storm preparation proceedings.
Town of Clarkstown Supervisor Alexander Gromack was very critical of O&R and related a particularly dangerous situation when Rockland police could not maintain generator power at the Town of Clarkstown Police Station and he, along with several officers, had to physically drive to O&R headquarters to ensure that power would be restored before the lights went off.
“It shouldn’t have to be that I, a councilman, a senator, and two police officers have to drive up to their headquarters to get them to understand the severity of what’s happening,” Gromack said.
Gromack called for stronger regulation of utilities and stiff penalties for noncompliance with state demands.
However, not all local officials were overly critical of Orange & Rockland. Nyack Mayor Jennifer White praised the utility, calling it “incredibly responsive” and emphasizing efforts to restore power to Nyack Hospital and provide for residents with special needs.
Utility Vice President Frank Peverly maintained they are communicating better than ever.
“This is not rocket science in the sense that no one knows what’s going on,” Peverly said. “It’s being able to funnel that information through the various channels to get to the people that need it. Peverly promised to engage with town officials in emergency planning and suggested improvements in infrastructure resiliency, which he said can not only prevent damage and limit outages, but also improve restoration times.
Pointing explained that United Water, which received far less scorn than Orange & Rockland, encountered “minimal issues” regarding generators and other equipment. However, according to him, United Water was generally well-equipped to handle large disasters and has managed well in the past, with droughts posing a greater risk than storms.
Emergency personnel and local officials frequently raised issues related to protecting the elderly and other special needs groups, who were often more physically limited and could not easily access emergency services. Sheriff Falco expanded this suggestion to include not only services for the elderly in shelters, but also use of police refrigeration units for perishable medications.
Efficient use of available labor was another common issue, with frequent reports of utility personnel who waited hours or even days before being assigned work. Local Laborers’ 754 representative Steve Reich suggested more use of local workers, who were readily available and could be easily mobilized and trained.
An often overlooked issue which was addressed in the meeting was housing repair. Skoufis announced a bill in the state legislature designed to expedite insurance providers’ action on mold damage, while director of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Ruth Ann Norton suggested working with jurisdictions to look at environmental hazards as an initial part of rebuilding homes.
The roundtable, which is one of three so far, will be followed by additional meetings held to address various geographic areas affected by Sandy. The Hudson Valley was a particularly unique issue with unprecedented flooding along the Hudson River.