Drop JCP&L, Montville Residents Say
Citizens suggest ways for township committee to communicate better during storms.
Get rid of Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L) or find some way to hold them accountable.
Mayor Tim Braden said that all of Montville was familiar with the “failure of JCP&L to effectively communicate with our residents,” but that he wanted to focus on residents’ suggestions for improving the committee’s communication to the public during similar situations. However, most of the members of the public, who packed the room in attendance, spoke about frustrations with JCP&L and pressed the committee to look into the possibility of changing power companies.
Words used were colorful; all of them were negative. Resident Vincent D’Orazio depicted the company’s performance as “abysmal” and “an accident waiting to happen” while Chuck Fisher called JCP&L's distribution system “decrepit.” Another resident said JCP&L should be “burned in effigy.”
Frances Fano, of Nathan Drive, said she does not believe JCP&L has any motivation to restore power to Montville.
“Certainly, they are not going to put on extra personnel that is going to cost a lot more,” Fano said. “They are going to just make us wait and keep the incompetent staff that they have.”
Resident Christine Fano suggested dumping JCP&L for Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), stating that, at the very least, the latter company is based in New Jersey and has good relationships with mayors and town council members. Doremus Drive resident Bernard Albanese agreed, saying that PSE&G “always does a better job.”
“[JCP&L] was a disaster during the ice storm last year,” Timber Drive resident Jennifer London said. “I know a lot of townships got together and dumped them.”
Another member of the public advised the township to consider partnering with or modeling a power distribution system on Butler Power & Light, which purchases power from JCP&L but distributes itself. The mayor said dropping JCP&L might be difficult because the company owns the equipment, power lines, transformers and substations that power Montville.
“For that equipment and infrastructure to be seized from them, it would have to come from the top,” Braden said. “We can petition the governor to do that.”
Resident Sue Karl requested that the township ask JCP&L for grid maps outlining what houses are on what grid. However, Township Administrator Victor Canning said he believes power grids are considered part of the state’s critical infrastructure, meaning they could be used for terrorist actions if placed in the wrong hands.
“I don’t think we will ever be able to get a hold of those grid maps because of the potential danger that is involved,” Canning said. “That is a conversation that we all have to bring to the governor to see if there is a way to address that.”
The mayor said that an invitation to attend the meeting had been extended to JCP&L. However, he said they declined.
Improving Communication Within the Township
Many offered suggestions for better communication, on part of the township committee, to residents, a few offering dismay at not receiving much information from the committee members.
“There’s a common misperception that, because of the positions we hold, we know more than you do,” Canning said. “Unfortunately, in this case, we did not.”
Both Braden and Canning explained that the JCP&L area manager assigned to Montville had been present at an October committee meeting. During that meeting, he had assured the public that the company, armed with updated protocols and storm management procedures and notifications, would be ready for any storm.
“However, in the first 10 days following the storm, we were only able to make contact with the area manager four times,” Braden said. “Each time, we were given information that was either incorrect or grossly inaccurate.”
Both Braden and Canning said that, as a result, the administration and committee did not feel comfortable disseminating information to the public that was incorrect.
Albanese suggested calling for the area manager to get fired. Christine Fano advised that the committee issue statements to the local press, which she said would prod the power company to provide the information.
“I see the East Hanover mayor in the paper making comments, and that’s what you need to do,” Fano said. “I do a lot of advocacy. You can’t just be silent.”
Many residents said they wished there had been more police presence, or at least somebody driving down their streets to see if they were OK. Pine Brook resident Walter Rickett, who said he and his wife were “trapped like rats,” said nobody came to see if they were safe.
“On the edge of my property was a telephone pole and a gigantic tree,” Rickett said. “On the other side of my property was another telephone pole with another gigantic tree. Nobody came and said, ‘Do you need any help, buddy?’”
Pine Brook resident Mike O’Brien brought up starting a citizens' task force – a suggestion seconded by the mayor and a few residents – that would help to act on some of the ideas mentioned throughout the morning.
“I think we should set this up, organize and have this underway so that people in this room who have such great ideas can walk out of here and say, ‘Things have begun, things have started and we’re already moving on,’” O’Brien said.
Other suggestions – both regarding communication and storm response processes – from residents included:
- Phone call updates twice daily during similar storms
- More communication about food banks in the area so residents without power can donate refrigerator and freezer foods
- Fire department offering a class or information on how to use a generator
- Putting more pertinent information on electric road signs
- The township consider setting up an emergency battery store
- Consult the township’s technology committee to help remedy communication technology issues
- Develop a plan to maintain the township’s bigger trees
- Disseminate paper fliers to homes or have them available at town hall
Residents did have some positive things to say about the township’s response. Frances Fano said she appreciated the Nixle alerts that were sent out, although a few residents said they did not know about Nixle until the day before. Additionally, many residents said they have Sprint phones and could not receive Nixle alerts. Canning said the township will look into a different alert messaging system, especially since township administration phones are Sprint-owned.
Julie Ballentine said she was impressed that she received a phone call about a shelter being opened up at the fire department to keep people fed and warm. Additionally, close to a dozen residents expressed their thanks – followed each time by thunderous applause – to committee member Scott Gallopo, who posted updates on his Facebook page and Twitter handle throughout the storm.