In addition to the power outages that followed, downed lines restricted travel for local residents.
"Phillips Hill Road was blocked for over a week," said Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester). "This was just one of so many. You could play this image over and over in this county. We wanted to come back here to say what has been done to make sure this doesn't happen again.
Carlucci and other local officials gathered with representatives of Orange & Rockland Utilities and Laborers Local 754 on Phillips Hill Road Tuesday to speak about changes made in the wake of the devastating storm to improve response times, particularly focusing on addressing downed power lines and getting utilities restored as quickly as possible after any future disasters.
"One year ago we stood in this very spot and recognized there was a need to respond better and faster to 21st century storms that hit our area," Carlucci said. "Every time a storm hits our area, we can't expect to be trapped in our own backyards for days or weeks on end. This new response plan is the right way to tackle a future crisis effectively instead of wasting time organizing a haphazard response."
Clarkstown Highway Superintendent Wayne Ballard spoke about the disappointment of being unable to clear roads because power lines still posed a threat. He said he had to send workers home to give O&R time to catch up before more of the work of clearing fallen trees could continue.
"What we learned from Hurricane Sandy was that municipalities collectively had hundreds of highway workers ready to clear roads, but their efforts were thrwarted until downed wires were de-energized. Senator Carlucci's legislation will dramatically improve town highway departments' ability to open the roads. The Town of Clarkstown has had numerous important metings with Orange & Rockland over the last year that should improve communication and emergency response during outages."
Gromack's reference was to live wire legislation that Carlucci introduced and worked to get passed into law. Utility companies are now required to submit emergency response plans to the Public Service Commission annually for review. They are required to secure downed wires within 36 hours of notification or face fines up to $500,000 per day.
"This is an important piece of legislation because downed wires can really paralyze a community," Carlucci said. "We can’t pass over them. We can’t move on until they are taking care of."
O&R also announced a plan to spend $35 million over the next three years to reduce the number of power outages and making restoration quicker. This includes strengthening its overhead electrical system at key locations to reduce storm damage, moving strategic locations underground and installing new equipment that allows for more remote operation of circuits. O&R also plans to step up tree-trimming near distribution lines, pruning limbs an additional five feet further from power lines.
"We are also changing our construction, work practices and most important, our design philosophy so we build a system that is stronger, more flexible and more transparent to our customers," said O&R Vice President of Operations Francis Peverly.
Peverly said it was more important that O&R have the workers available to enact its plans in case of a storm or other disaster. That is the goal of an agreement Carlucci helped create between O&R and Local Laborers 17/754 to prepare local workers to be part of an emergency response by the utility company. According to a release from O&R, local construction companies will bid on the O&R emergency work, with the winner hiring Local 17/754 members to do it.
Steven Reich of Laborers Local 754 said that they have 250 workers trained to supplement O&R's workforce during an emergency.
"Labors Local 754 would like to thank Senator Carlucci for his work in taking the lessons learned from Irene and SAndy and using them to solve real problems faced by the people of Rockland County," Reich said. "WE would also like to thank Orange & Rockland for being open to new ideas and their willingness to see how working together with local labor can be a win/win situation for both O&R and the community both logistically and economically."
"When we have events of this magnitude, we need to supplement the great men and women who work for Orange & Rockland," Peverly said. "One of the key aspects we want to announce today is the memorandum of understanding with Laborers Local 17 and 754 to provide over 200 additional neighbors to help us restore service to our communities quicker, sooner, safer and more efficiently."