Driscoll Demands United Water's Boots On Ground

Disaster Preparedness Conference unites government officials, utilities, and leaders of business organizations in Bergen County.

Bergen Community College was the site for Tuesday's Disaster Preparedness Conference organized by Jim Kirkos of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber and the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management (BCOEM). The conference was designed to provide a forum that would offer municipalities and businesses guidance and information on preparing for severe weather events. 

Although the focus of the conference was on preparedness for future weather emergencies, it was the devastating effects of Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and the October snowstorm on municipalities in Bergen County, and the response of the public utility companies, that was on the forefront of the minds of local officials.  

During a panel discussion, United Water's manager of Health Safety and Security, John O'Mara, informed the audience of public officials and business owners that prior to Hurricane Irene the company transferred its incident command emergency operations from its Harrington Park headquarters to its Idaho office. Unsure of the effect of Irene on operations in Harrington Park, O'Mara said that Idaho's weather conditions were optimal for being the conduit for all information relating to the storm.

Bergen County Freeholder John Driscoll took issue with that, questioning why United Water had no representative with "boots on ground" in Bergen County. He wanted to know why United Water representatives were communicating from Idaho instead of from the site of the Bergen County OEM Command Center in Mahwah.

"You saw this storm coming, it was a big one," Driscoll said, "You knew you had a dam holding water, but in your opinion you didn't feel it was necessary to send someone to the Bergen County Command Center where OEM was?"

Driscoll emphasized the fact that during Irene Gov. Christie established a chain of command in ordering all information filtered from the county OEM directors to the state.

"But you felt there wasn't a need to put someone there?" Driscoll reiterated.  

"You just talked about the need for communication---that was what that was all about. You felt there was no need?" he asked again.

Driscoll continued, "I saw canoe boats going up and down streets in New Milford to get people out of their homes. I think this was a big enough storm that you should have had someone here."

"In the future there will be somebody there," a representative from United Water assured Driscoll.

Driscoll also raised the issue of the flooding of PSE&G substations. PSE&G representatives said that the utility company has invested in new gas insulated switch gear technology that is being put into Teaneck/Bergenfield substation in order to take some of the pressure off the New Milford substation. 

PSE&G representatives said that although the New Milford substation was not in the flood plain when it was built, they will not be installing this new technology there because of the flooding that now occurs at that substation. Citing "overbuilding" as the cause of the flooding, PSE&G officials said some of the transformers were raised to an elevation of four feet in order to get them off the ground. 

Driscoll argued that the flooding cannot entirely be attributed to overbuilding.

PSE&G reported that they have commenced studies on all the substations that are subject to flooding. The studies will conclude what can be done to prevent the flooding, what solutions are practical, and what the projected costs would be. The findings will be made available once the studies are complete. 

Editor's note: There will be a separate article regarding the portion of the conference that addressed disaster preparedness for business continuity. 

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Lori Barton July 11, 2012 at 11:47 AM
I find it VERY interesting that PSEG representatives said that the NM substation was not in the flood plain when it was built, but it is now. When was it built? This only reinforces the SOD claims concerning how the flood plain has expanded in the years since 1982 when the DEP mapped out flood plains. And if the Suez/United Water property adjacent to NMHS is not totally in the flood plain, it absolutely has to be considered "flood fringe" property. Any impervious covering of that property will only exacerbate flooding in New Milford, Oradell, River Edge, Teaneck, and Hackensack. Just say "NO" to development of the Suez/United Water property!!!
Darlene July 11, 2012 at 03:50 PM
"Citing "overbuilding" as the cause of the flooding....." - and that's per PSE&G officials. Need we say more? SOD!
Mary McElroy July 11, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Mr. Driscoll & every one of our elected officials should be also questioning the State of NJ's Board of Public Utilities who gave a green light on the development of the UW property in New Milford. "The sale of the Properties is in the public interest since it will further the State's goals of open space and recreation". That's a direct quote. I don't know whether to laugh or cry with the constant hypocrisy, but it's very clear to me that it's a reflection of what has happened in our country at every level - we are being sold out by those who are supposed to make decisions in the best interest of the public. Within 5 yrs. of the sale of the land in NM & UW's property in Weehawken, UW will contribute $1million to the Garden State Green Acres Preservation Fund, to be used for the purchase of additional open space protection of the watershed in Bergen County. Really?? If we really want to protect watershed areas then stop allowing UW to sell of land to developers and build. One hand is washing the other with backroom deals that will sell NM down the Hackensack. Enough is enough, now it's our time to take a stand and fight this hypocrisy.
Jeffrey DelVecchio July 11, 2012 at 08:58 PM
What about disaster preparedness for residents? If the residents aren't properly prepared, there is no point in having the businesses prepared.
miriam pickett July 11, 2012 at 08:58 PM
I feel as if I am in a maze and can't find the way out. At every turn there is a new revelation about UW's complete lack of competent water and land management. If our mayor and council continue to support the development of this property, they should be ashamed of themselves.


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