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December 09, 2016
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Sullivan officials call for utility roundtable; information dissemination about Sandy ‘was flawed’

The utility companies that provide electricity to Sullivan County have been busy repairing downed power lines and issuing press releases chronicling their progress. By the morning of November 5, NYSEG reported that there were about 4,800 costumers without power in Sullivan County, down from a high of 24,000. Orange and Rockland reported 1,900 customers in the county were still without power, down from a high of more than 6,500.

The county also suffered numerous incidents of phone service interruptions, cable television outages and Internet service cuts. Also, at the height of the storm, there were 200 roads closed in the county. As numerous repair crews were still working on all of the various problems throughout the county, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Sullivan County Legislative Chair Scott Samuelson issued an open letter to the heads of all of the electricity, phone, cable and internet providers in the county calling for a roundtable discussion about how cooperation among the various entities might go better in the future.

Part of the letter said, “We understand that a storm of this magnitude poses significant challenges to utility companies. The men and women on the ground, who worked long hours under challenging conditions, are not at issue. However, the response to the storm and flow of information to elected officials, emergency management personnel and the public was, to say the least, flawed.
“This storm did not catch any of you by surprise. The utility companies serving Sullivan County were not appropriately prepared to respond. Requests for information were met, in some circumstances, with hostility and, frequently, the information provided was vague.”

A response from Clayton Ellis, manager of corporate communications from NYSEG said, “We began preparing for Hurricane Sandy days in advance of the storm—and we were prepared to respond. We are continuing to bring resources on board to assist with the massive restoration effort and the outage counts are continuing to decline. Each and every day since the storm hit, causing unprecedented damage to our electricity delivery system, we have worked closely with local and state officials to address critical situations. We have already discussed a follow-up meeting with Assemblywoman Gunther, and we will gladly participate in a roundtable discussion once this emergency is behind us.”

Limits on gas sales

The gas shortage in New York City, its suburbs and in New Jersey had an impact that was felt in Sullivan County. County manager Daivd Fanslau on November 2 issued a state of emergency that included a “prohibition of purchasing gasoline or diesel fuel at retail locations in any quantity greater than that which would fill the vehicle, with the exception of a small container necessary to fuel a generator or similar machine, as well as an exception for Sullivan County agricultural industry support.”

There was concern about customers who were filling huge tanks in the backs of pickup trucks with the intention of selling the gas downstate, where supplies were temporarily interrupted because of the hurricane. Fanslau said there was concern that price gouging would occur. He also wanted to ensure that sufficient fuel supplies would be available for public works and public safety vehicles and for local residents. The state of emergency, including the prohibition regarding large sales of gas, was lifted on November 5.

Impact on polling places

This statement came from county manager David Fanslau: “The commissioners of the Sullivan County Board Office Elections has all 63 election districts and all 39 poll sites set for the general election on Tuesday, November 6. There were two poll site changes necessary to accomplish this. The poll site at Forestburgh Town Hall was moved to the Forestburgh Firehouse, and the poll site has been moved from the Willowemoc Baptist church to the Neversink Firehouse. Both of these changes were due to the lack of power at the original sites caused by Hurricane Sandy.”