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What Irene Taught Us

Burying Power Lines Would Be Nice, But Expensive

So happy, after eight days without power, that I can finally vacuum. Never thought you’d catch me saying that, but here it is.

Ten days after the worst storm to hit Connecticut in 25 years, power was finally restored to almost everyone. You’d think after Hurricane Gloria, we’d have been better prepared.

Though the storm is over, and the cleanup just beginning, it got me to thinking how we could do things better next time.

According to CL&P spokesman Mitch Gross, 95 percent of the outages caused by Irene were the result of trees pulling down power lines.

“With all the rain we had the week before and then the tropical storm, it was a perfect recipe for trees coming down,” Gross said.

Indeed, in my neighborhood the National Guard came out to remove several trees that were blocking people into their homes.

In Madison, it would have made a difference if CL&P had done more preemptive tree-trimming near power lines, said First Selectman Fillmore McPherson.

“I don’t think CL&P did enough preparation,” McPherson said. “There was an insufficient flow of information from CL&P to the town. There were not enough crews lined up ahead of time to do the work of restoring power. We needed more boots on the ground and coordination of information.”

CL&P sent a liaison officer to each town but often this person knew precious little more than town officials, so the result was “disappointing,” McPherson said.

Although it was rumored that CL&P did not have enough transformers or utility poles they in fact had everything waiting in a warehouse in Storrs. These replacement parts just didn’t arrive fast enough for some.

As far as free tree-trimming goes, I say bring it on. But McPherson thinks Madison residents will balk at the idea of the power company trimming their limbs.

“I can imagine the screaming and yelling,” he said.

But what about burying those power lines? CL&P’s Gross says “there is no silver bullet.” Even if lines are buried, when a problem occurs, it often takes more time to fix a buried line than one above ground.

And it would cost millions. A regular overhead line costs $800,000 per mile to maintain versus $3.6 million per mile, Gross said.

So maybe we should focus on trimming trees or bury the lines in our business district. Madison could certainly afford to bury some lines given the questionable purchases our taxpayers have made of late – like paying $9 million for more ballfields at the Griswold Airport site and a $2 million bathroom at Hammonasset.

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