Murphy calls out power utility as outages linger

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

There were sounds of outages and generators humming on VanDorn Street in Basking Ridge, where power went down again last Wednesday. JCP&L’s customers are simply fed up.

“They ought to be fired. They should be out of business, because it’s very frequent,” said Basking Ridge resident Chris Salem.

“I don’t have a generator. Some houses have generators, but I don’t. So, it’s been cold since Wednesday,” said Karen Nunheimer, who is staying with family in Whippany.

Meanwhile, over on Glen Street, there’s no power after the electrical line arced and caught fire in the storm.

“It looked like the Fourth of July, like fireworks. From here down, on the one wire. It was unbelievable,” said Mike Maher, who caught it on video.

Angry residents tell the mayor JCP&L adds insult to injury with poor communication.

“People call and they call and they call and start getting different answers,” said Bernards Township Mayor John Carpenter. “‘You’re going to be fixed, you’re going to be fixed, you have been fixed,’ when they haven’t been fixed. And that’s when they start to call us.”

The two nor’easters combined to knockout power to more than half a million people across New Jersey in the space of a week. By midafternoon Monday, more than 4,000 customers remained disconnected statewide, half of them JCP&L’s. The utility blamed wires ripped down by trees. But its apparent over-reliance on “mutual aid” called in after the storms hit has drawn intense fire.

“You have to get them moving early. That’s up to this administration to sit down with these power companies, especially JCP&L, and say, ‘Make sure when you get this weather forecast that they’re on the move.’ Don’t wait until the crisis hits,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

Bramnick also recommended mobilizing the National Guard to help clear away downed trees. On Saturday, Gov. Murphy issued a thinly-veiled threat to JCP&L, stating, “I will not accept any of the company’s excuses for why thousands of New Jerseyans continue to be without power. I am prepared to use all the authority at my disposal to get power restored.”

On Monday he added, “We are angry. And we have to channel that anger, though and fight the next war.”

Murphy has ordered the Board of Public Utilities to investigate. On Monday, its board convened senior staff to start examining utility responses to these storms. In a statement, JCP&L said, “When restoration and clean up efforts from the two storms are over, we will work with the BPU to evaluate our performance and look for any improvement we can make moving forward.”

Meanwhile, back on Glen Street in Basking Ridge, a fleet of utility trucks from Ohio pulled up. A lineman made a few tweaks, and residents like John Mazalewski disconnected their generators, went down to the basement and flicked the switch. But just turning the lights back on isn’t going to cut it. The BPU has scheduled five public hearings on this issue and its president is vowing to “get to the bottom of this.”