Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
CL&P's violation of duties led to special compensation

Letters to the Editor
Journal Inquirer
January 3, 2012

By Jason L. McCoy

I want to state at the outset that had the corporate monopoly CL&P been prepared to tend to its primary business of power-line maintenance and power transmission, the length of time for state and municipalities to open their roads after the October snowstorm would have been approximately 48 to 72 hours.

That being said, recently there were concerns raised regarding special-duty compensation; costs and expenses incurred by the municipality as a result of CL&P's violation of its duties to keep its power or electrical lines out of the municipal roadways.

The special-duty compensation is legal and legitimate compensation for duties outside the ordinary. The reason the special-duty compensation, costs, and expenses is CL&P and its failure to adequately staff and comply with Connecticut General Statute Section 16-11 and the regulations 16-11-102 requiring the utility company's need to warn and protect the public and exercise all possible care to avoid hazard to the public by reason of its equipment and facilities. To confirm these statements you should read the Witt and Associate Report dated Dec. 1, 2011.

Please also see MSG v. Connecticut Light and Power, Connecticut Superior Court Hartford at Hartford, docket number CV-03-0821767-S regarding unfair trade practices.

All of those special duties subjected us to life-threatening situations, not the ordinary duties of municipal employees. The duties that we took on were the responsibility of CL&P's.

But due to CL&P's failure to have a plan, adequate staff, a smart grid that would assess locations of downed energized wires, employees or contractors to wire sit, sufficient employees or access to contractors to cut power lines so we could open roadways — not to mention the excessive delay in restoration of power — the municipal employees were forced to handle those duties.

Specifically the compensation for special-duty pay was for municipal employees such as administrative staff, volunteer firefighters, WPCA staff, school board staff, Cemetery Commission, staff or/and temporary employees' that were necessary for the protection of the public.

Almost all of the compensation, costs, and expenses associated with the special duties performed by the municipal employees were because CL&P could not perform its duties.

The following are examples of special duties and services CL&P forced the town of Vernon and its employees to perform:

— We set up additional staffing to answer 911 calls and transmit those calls to CL&P to establish locations of downed wires.

— Special radio communication operations.

— Special notification calls to the CL&P to force it to enter emergency ticket numbers for downed power lines crossing municipal and state roadways

— GIS mapping of those locations.

— Electrical wire sitting until corporate wire sitters came to the location

— Constant reconnaissance to obtain locations of downed energized wires and to confirm those wires were removed; often they were not removed from municipal roadways.

— Removing trees from wires within the roadways.

— Having our electricians remove wires leading to utility poles from homes and businesses that crossed the roadways to open the roadways.

— Cutting trees.

— Making multiple daily roadway assessments of locations of wires within the roadways.

— Going to the CL&P operation center in the middle of the night to establish a plan to remove downed wires from roadways.

— Making choices — three per day — of which area roadways would be opened and which would not, knowing that a serious possibility of death or danger existed to residents in those areas.

— Being forced to choose who had access to emergency services and who does not.

— Operating a shelter, warming centers, charging centers, bathing center

— Disbursing food and water.

— Going door to door to keep people informed of the fact that wires were energized and considered dangerous.

— Serving the void for the lack of CL&P staffing.

— And municipal emergency generation of power to keep normal government operations working, services provided, and to operate a shelter and bathing system.

Our days began at 4 a.m. and went through midnight.

In addition to the those special duties, we engaged in the normal operations of the municipality such as fire protection, EMS, police, payroll, and personnel, ceremonial, assessment, finance, programs, trash and recycling (when we could get through), meetings, events, social services, tax collection, tax assessment, recording of records, permits for building/fire and zoning, park programs, sewer service (even when the system went down), animal control, cemetery, and budgetary.

The town of Vernon was open throughout this event and did not close its normal operation; other towns did.

As mayor — just like every other town of Vernon employee who showed up — I engaged in the performance of every one of my usual duties, as well as those special duties and tasks.

Over four years I acted, as my grandfather did, as a full time mayor, and compensation was set for my usual duties as mayor.

Every municipality compensates its mayor or first selectman differently. I never complained about the compensation for my usual duties and worked until the day my term ended on my usual duties — plus those listed above, and confirmed every wire was out of the road, and power was restored. I did not want to leave with one electrical wire-related death. I'm sure the CL&P representative at our EOC will confirm that statement.
I would ask that those who choose to turn this into a political debate examine the situation and think about who is actually responsible and why. Remember this cost more than $4 million. This was a large and lengthy process.

Should there be some concern as to the special-duty compensation, costs and expense associated with those special duties, then the municipality should seek recovery of those necessary costs and payment required to be incurred to protect the public against harms based upon the failure to perform those duties required by law that CL&P failed to perform. It would be maintainable cause of action, as I indicated on "Face the State," against CL&P for an unfair trade practice.

I would certainly recommend this type action be considered by the governing body and the mayor to collect those amounts related to CL&P's violation of its duties.

The writer is the former mayor of Vernon.