July 24, 2014

Elyria
Sunny
67°F
test

Avon Lake officials want sit-down with FirstEnergy

AVON LAKE — In the aftermath of a week’s worth of storms, wind and extended power outages, city officials want to sit down with representatives of FirstEnergy to discuss how the firm responded to local communities.

“There were all kinds of controversies over the length of time it took to get power back,” Mayor Greg Zilka said. “It was very frustrating.”

At its worst point, more than 6,000 residents were in the dark.

That number was cut down to an estimated 3,400 by the afternoon of Nov. 1, and 80-some residents were still without power until the start of last week.

All power was restored by Tuesday.

“We believe we need to have a conversation with them on how to handle any kind of crisis in the future,” Zilka said. “We need to review the whole process.”

The mayor stressed that while the experience was “very uncomfortable” for many, it did not constitute a true crisis, thanks in part to the fact that temperatures remained well above freezing.

“I was without power for three days myself, and the temperature dropped to about 52 degrees,” Zilka said. “But people were able to stay in their homes. We didn’t have to find housing and shelter for thousands of people had temperatures been in the 20s.”

Zilka praised the efforts of utility crews who worked long hours in steady rain to restore power around town.

“They put in 16-hour days to get people online, and they did their job admirably,” Zilka said.

Acknowledging that the number of repair crews is determined by FirstEnergy management, Zilka said a number of residents “believed a large number of utility crews left the community and went to the East Coast.”

“FirstEnergy said supervisory people went east but crews did not desert Lorain County and northern Ohio,” Zilka said.

FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said he was not personally aware of requests for such a meeting, which would be handled by the utility’s government affairs personnel.

“Typically after storms, these kinds of communications take place with all the communities in our (service areas),” Durbin said.

Durbin acknowledged some line crews were sent to New Jersey to help areas of the state that were ravaged by superstorm Sandy.

“We knew ahead of time that area was going to get blasted, and it did,” Durbin said. “But we still had adequate resources here that we could call upon immediately to deal with outages as they came in.”

FirstEnergy crews were assisted by “mutual assistance” crews from the Toledo area and from other utility companies outside Ohio, Durbin said.

The slow pace with which power was restored to area residents was compounded by the high winds that battered northern Ohio on Oct. 29 and 30.

“Winds continued in excess of 40 to 50 mph, and we were not able to do a lot of repair work for a time,” Durbin said. “We were not going to put anyone in a bucket truck and endanger their lives.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.