Red Bank is joining several municipalities throughout the state in calling for New Jersey's Board of Public Utilities to investigate the state's largest energy utilities for their collective response to Hurricane Sandy aftermath.
Borough council, at the behest of Mayor Pat Menna, said it's looking to affect change and move in a positive direction, away from the frustration and animosity built up in the weeks following Sandy's arrival on New Jersey's shore.
The resolution approved Tuesday night is mirrored after the one written by South Orange, Essex County Mayor Alex Torpey. It calls for, among other things, a look at how power companies like Jersey Central Power and Light communicate and establishes guidelines for responses to future outages. Menna said several municipalities in northern New Jersey have joined the cause, though Red Bank is the only Monmouth County town to sign on to this particular course of action so far.
He believes more towns will follow.
"I think it's high time for the BPU to address this issue," Menna said.
Following Sandy, an estimated 2.5 million residents found themselves without power, many of them for an extended period of time. Both Red Bank and Shrewsbury reported complete blackouts immediately after the storm with power only being fully restored two weeks after the lights first went out. Over the course of those two weeks, Menna said town officials were left in the dark by JCP&L, desperate for information but unable to provide updates to an expectant public.
With no representatives from JCP&L making themselves available, borough employees became de facto employees of the utility, responding to complaints and concerns over the ongoing outages.
"We were putting band aids on the problem when the doctor... was at some corporate office," Menna said.
The resolution doesn't just issue a complaint, but a plan, too. In addition to asking the BPU to investigate the power companies, the resolution directly addresses management, communication and emergency preparedness.
Among the resolution's requests is that JCP&L - the same request is being made by towns serviced by Public Service Enterprise Group, or PSEG - be required to staff each municipality with a representative to serve as a liaison to the power company and answer public questions when 5 percent or more of a town is without power for longer than a day. In the weeks following Sandy, Menna said JCP&L officials were shielded from the public and the media by automated messages and a few spokesmen.
The resolution also calls for upgrades to infrastructure. In Red Bank, Menna said most of the lines and substations serving the borough were installed 60 years ago when the borough's population was smaller and the demand for energy was much less.
Though critical of JCP&L management, board members and borough Administrator Stanley Sickles praised the efforts of the workers dispatched to work on restoring power throughout New Jersey. Though crews were hampered by poor planning on the part of JCP&L and often forced to wait around for orders, when work started they were efficient and responsive to public demand, Sickles said.
Still, while Red Bank is putting the onus on JCP&L for failing to communicate, a couple of residents spoke at Tuesday's meeting and challenged the borough to get better in that regard, too.
While the borough had a team of trained volunteers as part of its Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, canvas the neighborhoods with information in the days and weeks following Sandy, some residents, including Paul Cagno of Wallace Street, said they were left without information for too long.
Borough officials encouraged the residents to take the available CERT training but also promised to learn from its post-Sandy response for the future.