Concerns about New Canaan residents' safety during Tropical Storm Irene and the subsequent October snowstorm were voiced at a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen in support of restoring the utilities commission Wednesday, Jan. 4, in town hall.

"If we're going to continue to have power outages, this is a significant safety issue," said Selectmen Nick Williams when introducing the matter of the Utilities Commission, adding that it has not met in about five years.

"I've had people come up to me and ask, `Why can't we put power lines underground?' " Williams said. "I don't know. I've heard it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But it's an issue worth investigating with the utilities commission."

Geoff Pickard, who attended the meeting, said his interest in joining the commission is to improve cell phone service.

"Our cell service is below par," Pickard said. "Most emergency calls that are made today are made with cellular devices."

Pickard raised the idea of erecting new cell phone towers that would reach areas in town with poor service and benefit the elderly.

More Information

Fact box

According to the U.S. Census, 24 percent of New Canaan's population is 55 and older.

"We are embarking on a period that's coming so rapidly it's almost scary, where most people will no longer be able to afford to stay in long-term care or hospitals," Pickard said. "They're going to stay home. But how are the individuals going to communicate with care providers?"

He said he has built relationships with people at companies that are major providers of cell phone service.

"I'm going to bring in key people to meet with the members of the town government and let them ask questions about what may be required," he said. "The three major carriers, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T, know exactly where the towers must be located."

Another major company included in this discussion was Connecticut Light and Power. Jim Cole, who worked with the Utilities Commission about five years ago, said there used to be full time CL&P employees at various locations in New Canaan, such as the town garage, who kept the commission informed on the status of power lines and related issues.

"As a result, we had real-time feedback on our efforts," Cole said.

Pickard added, "There's been a lot of controversy regarding CL&P's performance."

First selectman Rob Mallozzi agreed.

"Something happened after this last snow storm with CL&P," Mallozzi said. "I think the state has definitely put pressure on them. They are being more reactive. I'm hoping that we don't see the slow moving response that we did in the past."

The board also heard discussion from members of the audience interested in working for the Conservation Commission, who listed ideas that would enhance environmental sustainability and recreation in the town's parks. Such ideas included a shuttle system between parks and an LED lighting upgrade.