Next week we are scheduling an executive level meeting with Orange and Rockland Utilities to discuss their insufficient and inadequate response to Tropical Storm Isaias. As a Legislator I sponsored this same type of meeting in 2012 with O&R after Sandy and will be holding them accountable for the promises they made at the time.
Topics I will be bringing up include, assessment times, the outage map, wire guards, mutual aid, their tree pruning program, proper forecasting and preparation for future storms. I have spoken with many of you about your difficulties and frustrations but please let me know if there is anything else that bears mention.
But I do want to be completely clear with you, we in County Government do not have any direct control or oversight of public utilities like O&R. That power lies with the NY Public Service Commission which is appointed by the Governor. However, I pledge to continue to work and advocate for our residents because O&R MUST do better in the future.
O&R has at least agreed to provide reimbursements to customers who were without power for 48 hours of more. Residential customers may receive reimbursement for up to $235, or up to $540 with receipts. Business owners are eligible for food spoilage reimbursements up to $10,700 with receipts. Both claim forms are available here: https://bit.ly/3gIZQcm
Unfortunately, O&R was not the only company with issues after this storm. You may have noticed an uptick in recent spotty cellular service in the days since Isaias. Through the efforts of the Sheriff’s Office Communications Division and our Facilities Management team, we now understand why.
While our team has been busting their butts, trekking through deep woods to get to our Radio Communications sites and keep them operational by refueling our generators they discovered cell towers from major providers with dead backup batteries, generators with no fuel and no teams from these companies even attempting to get them up and running.
This is a dereliction of duty on the part of these companies and is completely unacceptable. Allowing these cell towers to remain inoperable is an incredible public safety hazard that could have resulted in the serious injury or death of our residents. Anyone should be able to use their cell phone to call 9-1-1 and get the help they need in an emergency.
And while we have seen some actions taken on their part to repair these issues, they never should have happened in the first place! To that end, we are drafting a local law which will be submitted to the County Legislature that would severely fine these companies for allowing their towers to be without power for days on end when a generator is sitting idle nearby.
These companies must take action now to improve their infrastructure and properly maintain what already exists to protect all of our friends, family and neighbors here in Rockland; to do any less is just plain dangerous.