New Canaanites vented frustrations, thanked officials and offered suggestions regarding the town's handling of Hurricane Sandy at the high school Thursday night.
As it happened, most of the thanks were directed at town officials, while the venting was directed at CL&P representatives. There was no shortage of suggestions.
The forum, titled After Action Review of Hurricane Sandy, allowed taxpayers to formally respond to the service they received during and after the storm. It gave the town a chance to learn from its citizens and what it could do better.
"It is equally important to all of us that we learn from you what worked well and what areas need improvement," Mike Handler, director of the Office of Emergency Management wrote in a release prior to the meeting. "Some of our best ideas come from suggestions we receive in discussions and reviews such as this."
Several of the ideas proffered by citizens including putting wires underground. Doing so would not only ensure that residents' power remained on, but would significantly speed up the process of opening up roads by eliminating the downed and potentially live wires that had to be deactivated and removed before any tree removal work could take place.
But representatives from CL&P said that putting wires underground is expensive.
"We appreciate those comments. We've been hearing a lot of them in the last year or so. It's something we have looked at, but it's very expensive as you know: millions of dollars per mile to put wires underground," one CL&P representative said.
William J. Quinlan, senior vice president of emergency preparedness for CL&P, was a top figure during the storm. He went into more depth of the problems associated with undergrounding wires and other options the agency has looked into.
"We are looking at undergrounding where it makes sense," he said. "Almost every research analysis says it is prohibitively expensive. We have 17,000 miles of wires in this state and the cost per mile to underground it is $1 million to $8 million (per mile). But we're looking at selective undergrounding. There's a plan in front of our regulators right now, a $300 million plan, that should help. We are a heavily treed state. These events are not preventable. You probably saw some of our investment this year in tree trimming. We spent about $60 million in reducing trees and we're going to do that for the next five to 10 years. You know in Connecticut we're all very attached to the aesthetics of our trees."
"Not as much as we used to be!" First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said.
"We want to make the smart investments: undergrounding where we can, and improving going forward," Quinlan finished.
The issue of cell phone service also got top billing at the forum. Geoffrey Pickard, a member of New Canaan's Utilities Commission, spoke about the need for additional cell towers in town, saying that the commission has identified two locations, but that the process usually takes two years.
"I want to speak about our cell reception," he said. "Frankly, it stinks. On a scale of 1 to 100 we're about 35. Darien is a 70, Wilton a 45. Why? Because of our topography ... . There are many ridges and valleys in the 22 square miles of this town we all love. If you live below where the tower is located, you might not get service. So what is the resolution? I spend a lot of my time spending talking to Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile and they all say the same thing: we need more cell towers, maybe three or four strategically located ... . I can tell you with a smile on my face we're making some progress. We've identified some possible sites," he said, though he wouldn't reveal where.
For all the complaints however, there was a strong feeling of thanks for the effort the town put out. Handler in particular was repeatedly awarded high praise for his around-the-clock work.
Resident Roger Colson was in France during the storm, but his wife was here in New Canaan. He was worried about her, having not heard from her for six hours. He had Handler's phone number and an international cell phone.
"I called Mike's office," Colson said. "They called me back in Paris 10 minutes later [saying] that they found her [and she was alright]. Being awakened in the middle of the night in Paris -- it's a pleasure to hear your voice, Mike. ... I knew so far away what was going on in the town."
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