White Plains, NY — The Westchester County Board of Legislators met for two hours on Monday to grill representatives of Consolidated Edison and New York State Electric and Gas on the utilities' response to storms in March and again in May that left thousands of Westchester County residents without power, many for as much as a week or more.

The meeting was a follow-up to a March 19 meeting at which representatives agreed to return answer questions that had been left unanswered and to address other necessary steps to improve storm response.

While legislators did get responses to some of their previously unanswered questions, after the meeting, Board Chair Ben Boykin (D – Harrison, Scarsdale, White Plains) called the lack of specific plans for improving the reliance on help from far-away utilities in response to storms “disappointing.”

“Mutual aid is broken,” said Boykin. “The current system only seems to guarantee the residents of Westchester at least a three-day black-out until line workers begin arriving from far away. There is too much reliance on mutual aid and just not enough locally-based experienced utility staff who can jump right into work tackling downed poles and wires.”

He added, “We certainly didn’t hear from Con Ed and NYSEG today how communications systems will be dramatically improved over the disastrous track record from the March Nor’easters and the May 15th storm.“

Legislators Mike Kaplowitz (D - New Castle, Somers, Yorktown) and Kitley Covill (D - Bedford, Lewisboro, Mount Kisco, North Salem, Pound Ridge, Somers), ripped into NYSEG for the company’s choice not to reimburse customers for losses of food after extended power outages – a decision Kaplowitz called “outrageous.”  

Covill also noted that NYSEG requested mutual aid in the early days of storm preparation but none came, a fact that was revealed in records the company filed last month with the New York State Public Service Commission, as an illustration that mutual aid does not work.

The two legislators also repeated their call for an independent assessment of NYSEG’s electric delivery operations paid for by the company but conducted by an investigator the County would choose.  Kaplowitz also faulted NYSEG for failing to conduct cost/benefit analyses of burying overhead wire or replacing poles with sturdier ones, and for its five-year tree trimming cycle.   
Legislator Margaret Cunzio (C - Mount Pleasant, North Castle, Pleasantville) faulted Con Ed for its tree trimming program which leaves wires running through cutaways in the center of some trees, as well as for the lack of a master plan for the preventive replacement of aging transformers and poles, an item also mentioned by Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D - Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Rye).

Parker additionally took exception with the companies’ repeated claims that nobody predicted the first March storm would be as bad as it was, citing a local newspaper report from days before the storm warning of a large scale nor’easter – essentially a category 1 hurricane.

Legislators said they would be forwarding the results of their meetings with the companies to the New York State Public Service Commission, which is currently investigating the utilities’ recent storm response.  But legislators also intend to hold further meetings with the companies, including inviting CEOs to answer questions from the Board.

“We take this very seriously as representatives of the people of Westchester,” Boykin said.

TOP PHOTO L to R:  Majority Whip MaryJane Shimsky, Majority Leader Catherine Parker, Chair Ben Boykin, Vice Chair Alfreda Williams. BOTTOM PHOTO L to R: Leg. Terry Clements; Con Ed’s Jason Litwack, Steve Parisi, Kyle Kimball; NYSEG’s Patricia Nilsen, Cindy Chadwick; CREDIT: Jaevon Boxhill.