City healing from storm, National Grid faces criticism
“Power is the name of the game right now,” Police Chief Col. Stephen McCartney said Wednesday morning.
McCartney didn’t lose power in the fierce wind and rainstorm that lashed the state Sunday night and into early Monday morning with hurricane force winds, but as of yesterday at 10:55 a.m. 5,173 Warwick customers were still without power, according to Ted Kresse, spokesman for National Grid.
That number was down from an estimated high count of 14,136 Warwick customers and 154,000 statewide in the wake of the storm. The statewide outage was 29,000 as of 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“Schools are a priority,” Kresse said when asked whether Toll Gate High, Winman Junior High, the Warwick Area Career and Tech Center and the Drum Rock Early Education Center would be open today. Power to those schools was restored yesterday afternoon and the superintendent’s office said they would be open today. All other Warwick schools reopened yesterday.
“I believe we’ll get a vast majority [of those without power statewide] back on line by tonight [Wednesday],” Kresse said.
There was good reason to think that could happen.
Reinforcements from as far south as Florida started arriving Tuesday morning. By dawn of Wednesday morning, the staging area at the Knight Campus of CCRI parking lot was lined with crews ready to follow Grid leaders into communities across the state. Kresse said there was a total of 94 crews representing more than 350 employees. He said that would be augmented by another 20 to 50 crews from New York that were expected to be in Rhode Island by Wednesday afternoon.
Gary Lataille, a member of Grid’s emergency planning, was on site at CCRI Wednesday morning. He said Grid’s logistics section arranged for the influx of out-of-state crews, reserving hotel rooms and planning for box lunches while out on the job. He said crews are expected to work 16 hours before resting for at least eight hours.
“The key is not to have the trucks here,” he said.
Meanwhile, the CCRI lot filled with student cars, making for a hub of activity. At the staging area, crews were matched with their Grid guides and accessed stockpiled materials including utility poles.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, who had his home power restored Tuesday night, said he had been in regular contact with Grid personnel in the aftermath of the storm.
“They have been very responsive,” he said. He said much of the Warwick outages was caused by the loss of a “major feeder line” that he expected would be functional Wednesday.
He said power was restored to Thayer Arena and McDermott Pool, but because it would take about a week to make rink ice, Thayer and the Warbuton rinks would remain closed. He said the city would also “hold off” on reopening the pool.
Not all Grid customers, or mayors for that matter, were as understanding of the company and the job they faced.
“I think National Grid dropped the ball, no doubt about it. We had businesses in town that lost probably hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena. “Most people can tolerate a one-day inconvenience, but two days, three days or more, come on.”
Polisena said that he was concerned about those on oxygen and the health and safety of the elderly.
“A lot of people in town don’t have municipal water, they have wells. So now they can’t use the bathroom facilities, or for cooking and so forth,” he said. “It just wasn’t a good thing, and I really, truly think that National Grid dropped the ball.”
Polisena added that the General Assembly should pass legislation saying that, if power isn’t restored within 24 hours of a storm, that National Grid should give each customer $25 per day until the power comes on.
“That might stimulate them to get the power back on. The General Assembly, they’re infamous for putting in legislation when something happens,” he said. “If I was up there, I’d file legislation that states if the power doesn’t come back on within 24 hours then they need to pay the customers $25 a day until the power is on. That would incentivize National Grid to bring in enough people.”
Warwick Police Chief McCartney said Wednesday that his department “was pretty much back to normal.”
Two major intersections, Warwick Avenue and Sandy Lane and Main Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard, where traffic signals were down, were monitored to “make sure the traffic was moving.” Police did not direct traffic. Traffic slowed at the intersections with most motorists treating the intersection as if it was a four-way stop. Nonetheless, three accidents were recorded at the Warwick Avenue and Sandy Lane intersection on Monday and Tuesday.
On Wednesday Toll Gate Road and Commonwealth Avenue was the remaining major intersection without power. Police were monitoring conditions.
Traffic backed up Tuesday in Apponaug, although with the new circulator and roundabouts, there are no signals. McCartney thought the choke point could be where southbound traffic enters the Apponaug Four Corners roundabout and two lanes merge into a single lane. He said the department would keep an eye on the situation and be in touch with the state Department of Transportation.
Department of Public Works Director Richard Crenca reported city crews had cleared “any road we could get through” as of Wednesday afternoon. He said he met with National Grid to go over the “hot spots” where wires were still down and Grid crews were required. Diamond Hill Road was one of those spots. To complicate matters, as a Grid crew drilled to replace a downed utility pole, they ruptured a Kent County Water Authority line.
Kent County Water responded to the scene. Kresse said Grid followed protocol and contacted Dig Safe prior to digging and the pipe wasn’t where it was thought to be.
“Man, what a mess,” Crenca said.
As for homeowners faced with cleaning up, Crenca urged them to bag it and use collection barrels where possible and leave it along with heavier storm debris for collection.
“Just leave it there and eventually we’ll get the larger storm stuff,” he said.
Crenca didn’t discourage people from bringing storm debris to the composting station behind Mickey Stevens Sports Complex. Normally, the station closes at 3 p.m. but that has been extended to 6 p.m. through Friday. Additional personnel will be at the station for Saturday, he said.
“If they can take it that would help us out immensely,” Crenca said.
Overall, Crenca gave his personnel kudos.
“We’re ahead of it,” he said. “Once everything is clear [downed wires and roads reopened] we’ll start a major pickup of storm debris.”