JCP&L crews are working on restoring power to a widely-darkened Point Beach, as electrical inspectors continue to identify homes and businesses that have water-damaged meters.
As complaints have mounted from many residents and businesses who have been without power for 11 days, and some that had power restored only to have it snatched away again by the nor'easter, the town has been trying to expedite the process for the lights to be turned back on, officials said at a Point Beach emergency council meeting at Borough Hall on Friday afternoon.
On Friday night, 1,749 JCP&L customers in Point Beach were still in the dark, according to JCP&L's outage map. That's an improvement from Thursday's count of 2,077, but still up from the Nov. 1 tally of 1,066. The progression of 1,066 to 2,077 shows that outages increased after this week's nor'easter.
One of the primary problems with trying to restore power is that some electrical meter boxes have been water-damaged and need to be replaced.
If JCP&L restores power to a certain part of town that includes homes or businesses with damaged meters, it can cause fires, according to Kyle Grace, Point Beach Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator, at Tuesday's Point Beach Borough Council meeting.
"That's what they did in Belmar and they burned three houses," Grace said.
So inspectors are inspecting meters, paving the way for JCP&L to remove faulty meters. JCP&L was out Friday evening removing some of those meters, said Mayor Vincent Barrella.
Barrella said at the Friday meeting that he contacted the state Department of Community Affairs to ask them to send licensed electrical inspectors to Point Beach, which only employs one part-time electrical inspector.
The eight state inspectors, along with Michael Gardner, Director of the Building Department, covered much of the town on Friday and may finish inspections on Saturday.
"They'll go out tomorrow and and keep working until they're done" with the entire town, said Elaine Petrillo, the town's code enforcement officer, at Friday's council meeting.
(For more details about which sections of town have been covered and other news, see the municipal website home page.)
The inspectors placed red stickers on meter boxes that appeared to be water-damaged or unsafe for some other reason. Those red stickers are a sign to JCP&L that they have to remove the meters.
Once all of the faulty meters in a particular area have been removed, JCP&L can restore power to that area. That restoration will not connect power to any properties where meters have been removed.
What to Do With That Red Sticker
Any property owners who feel a red sticker was placed in error can contact the town's building department from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday or Sunday. Barrella said panel boxes at some properties are inside, so red stickers may have been placed at some of those if inspectors could not get inside the property.
Regarding property owners who have faulty meters that are removed, they have to apply for a permit to have a new meter installed and then inspected so electricity can be re-connected. Usually, the fee for the permit is $75 and cannot be waived without state approval, Barrella said.
In response to a question from a resident, Barrella said if the state approves waiving the fee, the town will do so. Councilman Stephen Reid and other officials agreed they should look into having the state approve the waiver and follow through on that.
Mike Koen, who manages the Harbor Head condominiums, asked if JCP&L will cover the cost of meter replacement.
"Any time I had to replace a meter before, they always came and did it and didn't charge me," he said.
Barrella and Business Administrator Chris Riehl said they did not know.
Public Wants Power and More Information
A number of residents criticized JCP&L for not restoring power by now and some criticized the town for not giving out more information.
Kathleen McGuinness, who has had no power or heat in her home on St. Louis for 11 days, said she has been staying with friends and trying to find places to plug in her cell phone and laptop and go online. She said the town needs to keep residents informed about how JCP&L is progressing with power restoration efforts.
"No one in my neighborhood has had power," she said.
Councilwoman Kristine Tooker said residents can register for the town's Swift 911, a reverse 911 system that sends recorded messages to their home, work or cell phones. She said any residents who have no internet access now can visit the Borough Clerk's office and one of the staff members will set them up at a computer so they can enter their data and register.
Anyone with internet access, she said, can register for Swift 911 on the town's website. And residents with battery-operated radios can listen to the town's radio station 1630 AM.
Regarding JCP&L's culpability, Barrella said, "I'm not sure this is JCP&L's fault. This was a huge storm. I don't think that even state government fully anticipated this. If they had, I think I would hear a lot of criticism for JCP&L from Trenton. All I hear from Trenton is silence."
Barrella said the town had invited JCP&L to attend the meeting.
"They decided they were not going to go to council meetings, for obvious reasons, they're just going to get beat up," Barrella said.
"But our OEM (Office of Emergency Management) officials are in touch with them constantly," said Councilman Bret Gordon.
More Emergency Funds Needed
In other business, an emergency appropriation of $785,405 to fund some of the expenses incurred by the wrath of Sandy was approved unanimously by Point Beach Council on Friday.
Point Beach will borrow the funds for both appropriations and is likely to receive 100 percent reimbursed by FEMA because the town met a deadline on Friday, said Business Administrator Chris Riehl. Appropriations approved from now on will likely be reimbursed by 75 to 90 percent, Riehl said.
The appropriation approved at Friday afternoon's emergency meeting will cover part of the costs of "response, recover and restoration with respect to Hurricane Sandy," states a copy of the resolution.