Village residents not pleased with board’s response to power outage

08/26/2014 2:00 PM |

Greenport Village board members apologized Monday after dozens of residents complained they were left in the dark both figuratively and literally during last week’s village-wide blackout.

Around 7:30 a.m. last Thursday, a relay problem caused both substations at the village power plant to trip offline while crews were performing switching operations — a step needed to test the plant’s circuit breakers, village officials said. That precluded a string of other equipment malfunctions, causing some sections of the village to be without power until 11 p.m. that night.

Residents said they struggled to find updates on the situation and that an official response wasn’t posted on the village’s website until the following day.

“One of you guys should have been on the front steps [of Village Hall] talking to people,” said resident John Saladino. “It should have been on the website. People suffered through this.”

“There was lack of official communication,” said Marissa Winkler of Fifth Street. “There needs to be a better plan to communicate with residents. I think the public should know what is going on.”

While defending the village’s decision to issue updates via the press last Thursday, Mayor David Nyce said more could have been done to inform the public on the measures being done to fix the problem.

“We clearly did not do well with communication,” the mayor said.

Following the meeting, Trustee George Hubbard said the board would work to update its website more regularly and possibly create a village Facebook page to better communicate with social media savvy residents.

Meanwhile, some residents weren’t satisfied with the explanation the village provided.

On Friday, village officials issued a press release attempting to outline the problem at the plant that caused the 15-hour outage. According to the statement, crews quickly restored service to four of the six circuits before running into a problem in the older section of the substation, which prevented the entire system from being restored at the same time.

Consequently, crews were forced to disconnect multiple sections of the grid and bring back power slowly to avoid an overload of the system, officials said. The dozens of disconnected transformers were then reconnected manually, one at a time, according to the statement.

The outage was not related to the village’s multi-million dollar project to upgrade the power plant, officials said.

“That makes no sense,” said resident and former utilities director Bill Swiskey. “I know the system. I built the damn thing. We spent a lot of money and it still doesn’t work. I don’t know why I come here to be lied to.”

“Was it an accident or negligence?” asked Greenporter Hotel owner Deborah Rivera Pittorino, who said that the outage damaged parts of her business’s electric system. “I’m concerned about my business. Who is going to pay for it?”

Mayor Nyce said the village is not liable for damage caused by the outage because the power failure was an accident.

“It had nothing to do with our upgrades, it was simply a piece of equipment that stopped working,” Mr. Nyce said. “It was frustrating for us as well as the people without electricity.”

In the wake of the blackout, Greenport Village residents may expect more power outages in the weeks to come. This time, however, the outages will be pre-planned and are needed to return the village’s electric system to its normal state, officials said.

The first preplanned outage was scheduled for Tuesday morning and more can be expected for “a few weeks,” village administrator Paul Pallas said.

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