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Criticisms Aimed At JCP&L Soften Year After Irene

The power conglomerate was criticized by many local officials for its response to Hurricane Irene but steps taken to improve service and communication have softened harsh criticisms.

Red Bank Mayor Pat Menna had for Jersey Central Power and Lighting following Hurricane Irene’s appearance at the Jersey Shore. In the wake of last August’s storm, tens of thousands of area residents were left without power for days on end, and when efforts to reach out to the power company for answers were largely unsuccessful, town officials were left wondering whether it was incompetence or if JCP&L simply didn’t care.

What it came down to, Menna said, was JCP&L just wasn’t prepared.

It’s been a year since as a tropical storm, bringing with it plenty of wind and rain, but only a fraction of the anticipated ferocity. What towns like Red Bank and Shrewsbury found, in addition to a few downed trees and some minor flooding, were brought on by damage to an apparently aging infrastructure.

Things have improved markedly over the past year, Menna said, and the indication is that JCP&L has not only learned from its mistakes, but has taken the appropriate steps to resolve them. Just months after Irene, JCP&L pledged to invest $200 million into improving infrastructure. What’s more, Menna said, is that they’ve learned how to communicate, too.

“They’ve gotten the message,” he said recently. “Even when there’s a minor issue, they’re right there with an email or a call. I think the lesson was well learned.”

Menna criticized the power company for, as he said, it cutting staff to maximize profits for corporate execs and putting ratepayers at risk. Shrewsbury Mayor Donald Burden said JCP&L failed to provide the kind of communication it was responsible for as the borough’s business corridor, including two super markets, was without power for close to a week.

Criticisms against JCP&L weren’t just relegated to Red Bank and Shrewsbury, however. Municipal leaders from throughout Monmouth County and beyond took the power conglomerate to task over its inadequate response as more than 200,000 residents in Monmouth and Ocean counties were without power following the storm, demanding better communication, more employees on the ground and improvements to the infrastructure.

Some even called for an investigation into the power company from the Board of Public Utilities.

JCP&L’s recent attention to the details has resulted in municipal leaders calling off the dogs, for now. Among the fixes included in the power company’s response plan are upgrades to distribution circuits and more inspections and proactive replacements of utility polls throughout their coverage area.

Menna also gave kudos to JCP&L Area Manager Jim Markey. Markey has spent much of the past year traveling from town to town and meeting with officials to both listen to complaints and help come up with solutions. Markey even stopped in at a recent Red Bank council meeting to given an update about some minor work the company plans on doing to streetlights.

This, Menna said, is how it should be done.

“There have been some marked improvements in the way they respond,” Menna said.

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