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Local Officials Vow to Get Answers from Con Edison After Weeklong Power Outage

LikaLeviPhoto Credit: Lika LeviWith power to half of Village customers knocked out by Tropical Storm Isaias trustees invited local officials to the August 11 Village Board Meeting to discuss the outage and how it can be addressed with Con Edison.

First up was Sue Tolchin from State Senator Andrew Stewart Cousins’ office who said, “Andrea is outraged and is aggressively seeking information. She is aware you were promised to be restored by August 10 at 3 pm. There are now 15 crews in Scarsdale. I know how hard this has been for everyone. She is not happy, you are not happy and your residents are not happy. They are going to have hearings to pose questions. It has been an awful week. She is as angry and frustrated as we all are.

State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin called in. She said, “This has been a horrible week in addition to what we are going through with COVID. I was out until last night. Scarsdale was hard hit. I have been on the municipal calls. After Sandy and Quinn we thought we had addressed the problem. I have reviewed the Public Service Commission report. Con Ed did what they were supposed to do in that report.”

“We know there will be more storms. We need to think outside the box – we need to think of a major solution – additional staff for Con Ed so were not relying on crews from Florida and Texas. The bigger goal is when we do have these storms we are not adversely impacted for so long. We are going to follow up so that this does not happen again. This must be solved. I will do everything within my power to do that long term.”

County Executive George Latimer was on the call too. He said, “ The County does not have direct control over Con Ed or Altice. The hearings are good. The Governor said he would threaten the franchises of these companies. The County government cleared the BRP. I think Con Ed is just not staffed for these events. They are under staffed. We need a utility reserve entity to call up in crises. That’s what a fire department does with volunteers. We have a structural program that needs to be addressed. Make Con Ed pay a penalty. Make them offer financial rebates and a food rebate. Future hurricanes will yield the same result. There is a fair bit of trying to pass the blame.”

Trustee Justin Arest said,"I want to thank Assemblywoman Paulin, County Executive Latimer, and Ms. Tolchin on behalf of Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins for meeting with us tonight on short notice while hundreds in our community are still without power. In fact, according to the latest numbers I have seen on Con Ed’s website a few minutes ago, over 4% of Scarsdale Customers are still without power. As you have all stated, this is unacceptable. Obviously the focus now is getting everyone’s power restored but we all have to move quickly to figure out how to prevent this in the future. I understand that certain steps are needed in government to affect change but I very much hope and expect that the joint hearing next week in Albany will not be the beginning and the end. Amy has already said it will not be the end and she will be integrally involved which of course is reassuring! But we also know what the issues are. We have vulnerable power lines and are dependent on out of state municipal aid crews when they fail. What would have happened if the entire east coast had been battered by Isaias? Would residents have been without power for months?

Trees are certainly part of the issue. I did not support the last amendment to our local tree code and would welcome a work session to discuss what I see as possible deficiencies. It needs to protect our character as a village in a park but must also give flexibility to homeowners who are genuinely concerned for health and safety. We also need to be honest that our tree code is not the biggest inhibitor to tree removal. It is the cost of the tree removal. Even in instances where a permit fee and replacement tree are required, this is usually only a fraction of the cost to a homeowner to have a large tree removed. I think the Village can help with this and we should discuss this as well at our work session. 

But ultimately, we need to look at burying our power lines. It is possible it could cost approximately $80mm to bury just lines in Scarsdale. But my question is, why is anyone talking about us having to do it and pay for it? Why aren’t we demanding that Con Edison do it for us? It would be expensive. Con Ed has about 34,000 miles of overhead electrical lines, at the rough number of $1mm per mile, that could cost $34bn. But, as County Executive Latimer said well, we do not have to bury all of them; we can be strategic. Con Ed is a monopoly and therefore has no competition. Its net income in 2017 was roughly $1.53 Billion, yes, billion with a B. It was was about $1.38 Billion in 2018, and $1.34 Bn in 2019. The State needs to force them to take action. If the State was to mandate that they bury the lines in their service area over the next ten years, it could be done. They should be forced to reinvest into the system to protect us in the future and would likely still be profitable over the time it would take to conduct the work. I think Governor Cuomo has shown extraordinary leadership over the past months. During the past week, he again threatened to revoke the utility’s franchise. That threat is only effective if the utility believes it could happen. Let’s work together, and make them act and, if they do not then let’s do exactly that, let’s ask the Governor to revoke their franchise.

I would welcome any comments you may have on what I have proposed but I would also appreciate to know what we can do as a local government to help. I am just one of 7, but I believe we as a body are committed to ensuring change occurs and welcome a continued partnership in this endeavor. We cannot just allow this to end with a report and promises of the same repairs that have gotten us nowhere."

Trustee Jane Veron agreed. She said, “We are all beyond frustrated – we pleaded, cajoled, to no DonellanRoadCon Ed installed a new transformer to restore power to Donellan Road on August 11. Photo credit: Mary Blumenthal Lane.avail…. I have been on the Village Board for 4 years and it feels like ground hog day… Can we provide an inventory of our weak spots to Con Edison? Let us know how we can help – we want to arm you with what you need to be proactive. Please let us know how we can help – because we want to repair and fix before the next storm.”

Latimer said the Village should analyze where the outages occurred and identify place where wires can go underground. He also said to look at the foliage on the Bronx River Parkway and do a survey. We could do a capital project.

Tolchin said, “Scarsdale had 3,000 outages. You now have about 300 left. NYC was turned on before Westchester. They decided to put their fleet in certain places and Westchester was not a top priority. We are aware of that. We also have been in touch with Altice. They were worse than Con Ed.

Jonathan Lewis said he was without power for a week and that it was unacceptable. He listed all the utilities failures and said “We need to hold them to a higher standard. We need to define what we need. We need a 21st century infrastructure to mitigate extreme weather conditions.”

The Mayor said, Unfortunately we are still deep in the recovery process. I have walked around the neighborhood and seen what you have endured…. I too am outraged. Village staff have performed extremely well. Staff is not able to restore power. We are very fortunate to have such dedicated Village staff. They responded to over 100 calls for service.”

He said, “We have all lost faith and confidence. I promise that the village will continue to press for change. We will not stop our quest for meaningful change.” We will write letters and meet with people. He called on residents to “Participate in this endeavor. Let Co Ed and the Public Service Commission hear from us with a united voice.”

He also spoke of the generosity of Scarsdale residents to their neighbors in this time of need. He said, ”I have seen people sharing homes, meal tables, showers, washing machines and power outlets with their neighbors. The depth of our spirit is exemplary. My pride in calling Scarsdale home continues to grow. We are Scarsdale strong and we will get through this together.”

Village Manager Steve Pappalardo outlined Village preparedness for the storm. He said that the Village has a Con Ed liaison who was helpful in establishing protocols. He noted that Scarsdale did have a restoration crew in town right after the storm. He outlined work by the Department of Public Works in advance of the storm to clean catch basins to alleviate potential flooding. Police and fire were prepared and SCARVAC had ambulances available.

About the storm, Pappalardo reported that it hit the Village Tuesday August 4 from 2-4 pm and caused 3,200 outages, impacting 50% of Scarsdale customers. The Village lost power at Boniface Circle, the DPW Garage and the Scarsdale Pool.

Since traffic lights were out, generators were connected to traffic signals. Village crews cleared roads of trees and branches not encumbered with wires. In fact, the Village did more of the tree removal than Con Ed contractors. He said, 114 tons of yard waste was collected at the recycling center and hauled to the county recycling center. The pool lost power. It reopened on Monday and the Village waived fees for anyone without power to use the pool.

He added that Village staff had taken many phone calls and “allowed people to vent even if we could not help.” He said, “I am sorry for your outage.”

Public Comments

Randy Whitestone said, “It is easy and unsatisfying to be angry at Con Ed but we have to seek long term solutions because these storms are becoming more frequent.
He thanked the Village Board for all the work they have been doing.

Bob Harrison “thanked the staff for their responsiveness.” He discussed the increase in the sale of tennis permits and tennis tournaments he is planning for this month. He said, “Thank you Mayor, you were nice to me.”

Bob Berg called in, saying “We are not moving yet. I am still at 32 Tisdale Road.
I have lived here for 18 years. We have gone through so many storms. The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result.” It seems to me we go through the same storms and we always have power failures. Most of the outages are caused by trees within the Village right of way falling on the power lines.

Berg called on the Village to cut down the trees that are interspersed in the wires. He said, “Go down Heathcote Road. You’ll see massive limbs in the wires. It’s crazy that we don’t do anything. Trees are not as important as people. We can’t have these power outages because of trees.”

He said, “One of my neighbors on Popham Road had a massive tree threatening her house. I looked at it and it was hollow. It was a Village tree. It was seriously diseased and dying. The Village has a legal responsibility to maintain the trees in the right of way. We can go out with tree crews and clear them from the Village right of way. The tree code is a disincentive to cutting trees in front of people’s homes. People should have the right to take them down without suffering penalties.”

Pappalardo addressed Berg’s comments about tree trimming. He said, “We have a dedicated tree crew and a new truck with claws, and dumps. The crew goes out everyday. They work 250 days a year. There is so much tree work that we contract out for additional tree work and spend $50-$70,000 per year for outside crews. We pay more for insurance for tree trimmers that any other position in the Village. We employ an arborist to inspect trees that need attention, hundreds of trees a year. We also plant trees. When we take a tree down we replace it if the resident’s are interested. Some of our residents don’t want a new tree so we respect that. If there are power lines, we don’t plan trees that will grow into those wires. Their maximum height is below those lines. There are positive aspects of our tree inventory as well.”

Later in the meeting Berg disagreed with the Village Manager saying that the Village tree trimming program was insufficient.

Lena Crandall responded to Berg recommending that everyone have their trees examined by an ISA arborist. She called for an inventory of Village trees and a safety rating. She said, “We need the trees in the fight against climate change. We need to protect the ones that are healthy and good and address the ones that pose a hazard to our community.” She said we should work with the most scientific approach.

Jane Veron reported on recent happenings in the retail community and the Scarsdale Business Alliance. She said:

The Sidewalk Sale was a success. The registers were ringing.

Chalk the Dale was a great addition to the Sidewalk Sale. It attracted 100 residents.

The Dine the Dale tent has become the jewel of the Village Center. There is constant utilization. The SBA is considering keeping it up through November.

Wilson and Son Jewelers will take over the stores vacated by Danielle Trissi, Space NK and Sam Lehr. They are renovating the space and plan to open in early 2021.

The new Asian Fusion restaurant Acai will open shortly in the space formerly occupied by Lange’s and they have received their liquor license

Village Clerk Donna Conkling reported that the Village received 47 emails about the loss of power.

Watch the meeting here:

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