National Grid Grilled By Selectmen, Residents
Two spokesmen from the utility company that serves Westford's energy needs were questioned by the Westford Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night following a response to last week's storm that was widely seen as inadequate at best.
The height of the Snowtober storm may now be a memory for most Westford residents, but the issue of how it was met was the main topic of discussion for Westford’s Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night.
Praise was given to a variety of town departments and employees during the beginning of the board’s look back at the storm, but the tone quickly changed to one of frustration when addressing the topic of National Grid’s response to restoring power to Westford.
The concerns were myriad, beginning with worries over whether National Grid learned anything from the 2008 Ice Storm, particularly in the area relating to speed of recovery, where members of the board were frustrated with the fact that many of the crews seemed to come from out of state days after the height of the power outages.
“In my neighborhood, the guy that ultimately made the fix said he was from Wisconsin,” said Selectman Kelly Ross. “If we’re depending on people from Wisconsin, it’s going to take awhile.”
National Grid spokespeople responded with examples such as in Long Island, where they said they are required by local laws not to allow any crews to leave the state unless all local customers currently have power.
Westford Highway Department superintendent Chip Barrett also challenged this notion by noting the example of one Westford resident he knew that also worked for National Grid that was crucial in removing debris blocking the Nabnasset Fire Station, as well as Oak Hill, Plain and Forge Village Roads.
However, concerns among the board and the audience did not appear to be placated by the replies as inquiries were leveled on the two National Grid representatives on issues ranging from poor communication, where Board of Selectmen chairwoman Andrea Peraner-Sweet noted that her house was without power for three days despite National Grid saying that power had been restored at that location, to concerns over response time on the ground.
“We had 16 major roads still closed as of Wednesday, I couldn’t believe the devastation,” said Westford town manager Jodi Ross. “(It was) totally unacceptable, National Grid has to change how they do business, and do it immediately, not four days after a storm.”
While no formal motion was made on how to immediate address the issue during the specific portion of the meeting relating to National Grid, ideas ranged from starting a municipal committee geared toward investigating the issue of post-storm cleanup procedures to Selectman Valerie Wormell’s recommendation for National Grid customers not to pay their bills on time as a source of protest.
Although the issue of National Grid remains in the air, debris from the storm remains scattered throughout town, with Barrett telling the board that the Highway Department has been overtaxed due to the lack of available independent contractors following last summer’s tornado and Irene cleanup elsewhere in the state, as well as the sheer magnitude of the task, as Barrett cited that all of Westford’s approved roads stretched end to end would be equivalent to travelling on the Massachusetts Turnpike from the New York border to Boston and back.
Although there were some initial concerns that it would impinge on the jurisdiction of the School Committee, following Barrett’s assurance that he had received Superintendent Bill Olsen’s blessing, the Selectmen allowed Barrett to open a secondary brush dump for residents near the parking lot of the Abbot School, in addition to the current brush dumping area at the Forge Village Ballfields on West Prescott Street, which will be open from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. for woody debris less than four feet in length until further notice.
Residents are requested by the town not to put their debris onto the side of the road or burn their debris, as Westford Fire Chief Richard Rochon told the Board that he was unable to obtain a special exception from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to begin the burning season earlier than its normal January 15 date, citing that it was believed doing so would create air quality issues.