At a rare joint meeting on Dec. 4, members of the New Castle Town Board and Chappaqua school board discussed post-Hurricane Sandy work and how to plan for future disasters.
Communication from power company Con Edison to the town was the first item of business, with officials talking about how the utility failed to do so adequately.
Deputy Supervisor Elise Kessler Mottel, recapping a recent meeting that she and Town Administrator Penny Paderewski had with Con Edison the day before, noted that the utility was aware that municipalities did not have the information to give to residents. The Chappaqua Moms Facebook group, which served to fill part of that role during the blackouts, was even mentioned at that meeting, Mottel said.
Another problem had to do with some crews, such as those form out of the area, not having enough information about parts of town.
“It really was just a mess," Mottel said.
Paderewski mentioned to the school officials that the town would like to emulate the district's use of robo-calls, which she noted that the town heard were helpful to people during the storm.
Schools Superintendent Lyn McKay nodded favorably in response.
"Yeah, we'd be happy to help with that," said School board President Victoria Tipp.
McKay said that she would be happy to share the AlertNow system, which the district uses for reaching out to residents.
Interjecting with some humor, school board member Jeffrey Mester said he wished that he could lend out McKay's voice as well; the superintendent is known for havng made ubiquitous and personal post-Sandy updates to the community with the robo-calls.
While the school district has received positive feedback locallly, the town bore a lot of criticism from frustrated residents. From the district, however, the town has received strong praise for its help.
Tipp thanked the town for its services, including access to its emergency operatons center, and contact that McKay was able to get with the town for updates, including from Supervisor Susan Carpenter. She said that they “very much appreciated all the work that the town did.”
School board Vice President Alyson Kiesel asked about de-energizing power lines in relation to a storm and whether somebody has to be on site to do so.
“It's extremely hazardous to go outside," replied Councilman John Buckley. For example, in the case of firefighters responding to a call with downed wires, he noted that they will not take action until Con Edison arrives and does deactivation. Mottel added by noting that the town's Department of Public Works could not remove trees until getting support from Con Edison.
Tipp also asked about prioritization for restoring power in the area. She explained that it seemed to her it did not make sense about whom got power back.
Mottel, on the subject, said the hope is that Con Edison will have a new plan that includes giving more information so that it is known where they are working and where their trucks are.
“That really was a big problem. We just did not know.”
Mester asked about the scenario of changing power companies. Councilman Jason Chapin replied by noting that it is the state who issues licenses. Chapin noted an indication from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who lives in New Castle, about the possibility of not automatically renewing licenses.
Burial of power lines, an alternative that has gotten renewed attention since the storm, was discussed, along with it having a high price tag. Chapin noted that, based on a recent quote they got, the cost could be between $5 million to $7 million per mile, or $7,000 to $20,000 for individual customers to opt in. Buckley noted an additional hurdle, and that is Con Edison does not own all of the lines.
Talk also shifted to possibly making use of school buildings as shelters.
Tipp noted that there would have to be a determination for which buildings would be adequate for shelters.
Board member Randall Katchis felt that it they could dictate prioritzation for road work, then this could help with shelter availability.
“That's exactly it," Buckley replied.
Supervisor Susan Carpenter felt that there should be an analysis done for various school buildings and their vulnerabilities, along with getting Con Edison's input for which ones are least vulnerable to power loss. She noted that Horace Greeley High School, for example, might have a cooking area and gym too far apart for generating power.
The cost of having a generator, after the Greeley-as-shelter scenario was discussed, would be in the six-figure range, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business John Chow, noting an estimate done.
Mottel indicated an interest in having her and Paderewski work with the school on shelters. McKay added to the conversation by speaking favorably about having more cooperation between the town and school district for emergency work.