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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 , in addition to the current brush dumping area at the 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.

Phil Baker November 09, 2011 at 01:05 PM
I have just moved into westford 100 days ago and have lost power three times for a total of 10 days and lost food twice. This is terrible service. It took six days before the power was restored.
Kristina Greene November 09, 2011 at 02:10 PM
I have lived in Westford for almost 13 years in the Nabnasset area. We were told by a long time resident to expect frequent power outages. He wasn't kidding! We constantly lose power for no apparent reason. When a storm does hit, we are SURE we will lose power. The Nabnasset area seems to get hit very hard, very often, even when weather conditions are fine. I would like National Grid to look into why certain areas lose power more frequently than others - are there too many old trees coming down, is there old equipment failing, are power lines in more vulnerable spots? And work on fixing these BEFORE the next storm.
R Gagnon November 09, 2011 at 03:22 PM
perhaps, if the utilities were allowed to trim the trees back away from the lines so they wouldn't fall on them when they give under the weight of snow and ice, the damage would be much less and restoration much quicker. Preserving the "rural character" of Westford has a price.
Vicky Geary November 09, 2011 at 05:10 PM
Utilities are permitted to trim trees. In fact, NG sent a rep to my house in early September to indicate that they were going to be trimming some trees on my drive/road. When asked when, it was 2-3months out, putting it in December. I know someone else who had NG trimming trees as well.
Kendra Kilsdonk November 09, 2011 at 11:53 PM
National Grid trimmed our trees a couple of years ago, heavily, where they were over wires. The wires in front of our house did not come down, thanks to that trim, though we were without power all week despite that. As for the town response...my husband and some neighbors cleared several very frightening "widow maker" branches hanging over our street this past weekend. They were too dangerous to leave there, hanging over foot and vehicle traffic, and since no apparent Town help was coming soon, they cleared them themselves, at some pretty serious personal risk. Never mind that when my husband showed up at the Forge Village Ball Field, five minutes past official closing time of 4pm for brush drop off, he was turned away...with a truck full of branches from the street, which weren't even his responsibility to dispose of. Maybe we can cut folks some slack on that 4pm closing time, most people are working out of town until at least 5pm.
Graniteville Resident November 10, 2011 at 07:07 PM
I'm so tired of National Grid, Comcast and other utility companies saying that they put all their resources towards restoration, "worked as quickly as permissable" and for everyone to "please have patience". The very reasons I was told the 2 times I called for status updates during this past storm. Of course what's the liklihood our bills will be credited for not having their services?! We should all demand credits to be applied. If they don't have enough resources wouldn't you think they would gear up or have plans in place to get the resources FAST. I think of the elderly, infants and sick folks that had to sit in 40 degree homes and think there's got to be a better way! I am now battling a nasty cold which started up 2 days after being without power for 5 days..and I'm a normally healthy person. I also had to throw out an entire freezer and refrigerator of food. Maybe the utlity companies should be held responsible for giving everyone a stipend to go grocery shopping for every day they're without power. Then watch how quickly they come up with the resources to get the job done right. The one way we'll see change is when they see it hit their profit margin.
Sally Rosenthal November 10, 2011 at 10:24 PM
I also wonder about how their priorities are defined. I'm not saying their "power on" order was wrong, but I think road clearing should be given higher priority. We were totally blocked in by downed trees, power lines, and a utility pole until Thursday night/Friday morning. Because of forested lots with swampy areas, we couldn't even walk out through back or side yards. I understand that as a small neighborhood, it's not that important we get power back quickly, but I think as a parent with three young children, or for the senior citizen who lives alone across the street, it would have been nice to at least be able to get out of our houses even if we were last on the list of power restoration. Having our road blocked with no progress for nearly a week turned a major inconvenience of no power into a really annoying and unsafe situation.
R Gagnon November 10, 2011 at 11:01 PM
With the utility companies, they work from the main trunk lines down to the individual homes. The most power restorations per man hour. A guy that I work with watched the utility trucks turn down his street the day after the storm. He was excited that they were there so quick. A short while later, they were gone. When he went out and looked up at the poles, he could see that all they did was pull the fuses on the poles to make sure the power wasn't restored on his street until the necessary repairs were made. 6 days later, he had his power back. What I wonder about is the coordination that takes place between tree service outfits and utility companies. Obviously, they would have to work cooperatively to get a job of that size done. Is there any room for improvement in that area? I looked at broken limbs resting on downed wires for 4 days. They day after the limbs were gone, the utility repairs were done.

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