The Matawan Borough Council and the Office of Emergency Management held a public information meeting Monday night to address residents' concerns and frustrations about ongoing power outages, a lack of communication, and a lack of answers from JCP&L.
Over 150 residents and local business owners attended the meeting in search of information, leaving standing room only at the Recepetion Center at St. Clement. Matawan Mayor Paul Buccellato, OEM Coordinator Sgt. Thomas Falco, 2nd Deputy OEM Coordinator Tim Clifton and Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-12) rehashed the borough's response to Hurricane Sandy before, during and after she rolled through Monmouth County. No one from JCP&L, however, attended the meeting.
"Just so you know, I had asked a representative from JCP&L to be here tonight and I was denied. Two phone calls were placed by myself today, and I was denied twice," Mayor Paul Buccellato told the residents. "Once by the gentleman who is the manager of the district and once by the associate manager from Ohio who is here to assist JCP&L in this crisis."
Here is a round-up of information shared at the meeting:
Matawan Storm Preparation
Mayor Paul Buccellato explained that on Saturday, Oct. 27, he attended the press conference with Gov. Chris Christie in Keansburg and upon returning, signed a local state of emergency declaration and activated the Office of Emergency Management.
In anticipation of the hurricane, the borough sent out the street sweepers to suck up debris that might otherwise clog storm drains, Buccellato explained. Monmouth County was also contacted to pump Lake Lefferts.
"They drew it down by a foot and half so we didn't have on Ravine Drive what we had last year," he said.
On Monday, Buccellato stationed himself with the Office of Emergency Management at the Matawan Borough Police Department and waited for the storm to pass.
"At that point, we all know, the power went out. Immediately we began contacting people at JCP&L, Sgt. Falco, his deputies and myself. We tried to keep the residents advised as much as we can," he said, emphasizing the importance of residents providing their cell phone numbers to the borough for their emergency alert system.
Power Outages & Restoration Efforts
The majority of the state lost power during Hurricane Sandy. A week after the skies had cleared, however, the majority of Matawan remained in the dark.
"Matawan suffered severe damage to their electrical infrastructure," Buccellato said, "In Marc Woods alone, there are forty repairs that need to be made before they can recharge the system. There were power lines down all over the borough."
The information provided by JCP&L has been few and far between in the days after the storm, explained Buccellato.
"Personally I've been in contact with JCP&L every day for at least six, seven [days.] They are totally unresponsive to any of us," Buccellato said. "I called the Governor's staff representative for our area this morning and I think some of that discussion resulted in what we're seeing today, some of the trucks in our area."
Buccellato explained that JCP&L is not working on specific communities, but rather on percentages of customers without power. JCP&L was scheduled to perform work on Ravine Drive, Bellevue Avenue, Center Avenue, Crescent Place, Edgewater Drive, Indian Trail, Ivy Court, Courtland Lane, MacArthur Drive, Main Street, Ned Drive, Sutton Place, Texas Road, and Wilson Road on Monday, but that did not necessarily mean power would be restored on those streets.
Sgt. Falco explained that JCP&L told them that all repairs must be made to each grid before it is re-energized. The area manager responsible for Matawan is from Cleveland, Ohio, Sgt. Falco said. The police department brought him on a tour of the damage in the borough.
"We went though every area. I showed him all the downed lines, the downed polls. It's extensive damage. Of the seven circuits that bring power to Matawan, seven were down. As of now, two are partially up. The rest of the circuits from what I am being told are not going to be partially up. They will do all the repairs before bringing the circuits up one at a time. In my own neighborhood, all the wires are back up and all the poles are back up, but they are not going to energize until the whole grid is done," he said.
There are crews from several states working in Matawan now, Sgt. Falco said. However, JCP&L would not give borough officials an estimated time of restoration.
Buccellato shared his frustration that it took so long to even get this information from the utility company.
"It's an uphill battle with JCP&L," he told the residents. "I promise you, I am going to the board of public utilities after this is all completed to make a complaint for the residents of Matawan. They (JCP&L) are horrible. To not be here tonight is an insult to the residents of this borough."
Aside from leaving local residents in the dark and fighting the cold, the lack of power in the area resulted in dangerous driving conditions throughout the borough. Areas of particular concern include the highly traveled intersections along Route 34 and Route 79.
Sgt. Falco explained that the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) ordered the borough to set up cones at Route 34 intersections where traffic lights were without power. The cones block drivers from turning left or crossing the intersection, in an attempt to reduce motor vehicle accidents.
On Friday, Nov. 2, Mayor Buccellato purchased generators for use at several heavily traveled intersections in the borough to run the traffic lights. After the lights were operating for about an hour, Sgt. Falco said, the NJDOT threatened to confiscate the generators if the lights were not shut down.
After some negotiating, the generators were allowed to continue to power the lights, but had to be rewired and could only blink, not cycle. According to Sen. Thompson, he placed call to NJDOT and they were on scene Monday night installing their generators to get the lights up and running properly.
Looking to the Future
Buccellato and the Office of Emergency Management received several constructive criticisms to consider in advance of the next storm of this magnitude. For example, residents want officials to consider the lack of cell phone service, damaged phone lines rendering home phones useless, homes with ejection pits, JCP&L's lack of tree trimming, and the cold November weather families have to handle without heat.
Buccellato said the borough is going to look into tree removal as well as a way to assist residents with ejector pits, which means their sewage system doesn't empty without power.
Sen. Thompson noted that he suffered with power outages at his Old Bridge home and has family who lives in Matawan. He vowed to look at a long term solution for the impact of strong storms like Sandy.
"We're going to have to sit down and look at a longer term plan to do what's necessary, and we're talking about billions of dollars here, to transform our system from the one right now that is so vulnerable," he said. "But that's not something that we can do overnight."
Toward the end of the meeting, Buccellato offered some perspective on the scope of the challenges Matawan residents are facing.
"There are a lot of other communities and municipalities as you know in the Bayshore area, in our area, that are suffering, that don't have homes," he said. "There are over 200 homes in Union Beach alone that are gone. I mean literally, they don't know where they are there are only foundations left. That's how serious this storm was."
Where have you seen workers repairing the electrical infrastructure? Has your power returned? Tell us in the comment section below.