Fighting to turn the tide: Fairfield getting back to normal
Three days after Irene paid an unwelcome visit to Fairfield, there was a steady stream of orange public works trucks down One Rod Highway to the town's transfer station and composting center, filled to the top with tree limbs ripped down during the tropical storm.
Deputy Fire Chief Art Reid said town officials are still amassing data to determine the damages caused by the storm, as well as the cost of the cleanup.
To help residents get rid of the debris left in Irene's wake, GreenCycle, the composting center on One Rod Highway, has extended its hours until Sept. 9: Friday from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.; Saturday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and hours have been added Sunday and Monday (Labor Day), 8 a.m. to noon both days. Weekday hours next week also will be 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 15 roads in town remained closed, but clearing the streets and working with United Illuminating to restore power remains a priority, town officials said.
The opening of the new academic year, initially planned for Thursday, had to be rescheduled to Tuesday because of lingering outages and other safety concerns.
The Health Department, which had closed all town beaches in the immediate aftermath of Irene, on Wednesday allowed swimming again at all of the beaches on Long Island Sound. The beach at Lake Mohegan, however, remained closed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, interim First Selectman Michael Tetreau continued to put pressure on United Illuminating for better communications with the town in the wake of the storm. As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, 6,833 customers in Fairfeld were without power. By evening, that number was 6,901. And by 5 a.m. Thursday, the number of outages reported by 5 a.m. was 6,783, or about 29 percent of the town's total. The outage number fluctuates because, in some cases, power must be shut down by utility crews so repairs to other areas can be made.
At a press conference with Tony Marone, the UI senior vice president of business services, and William Reese, the utility's vice president of administrative services, Tetreau said Wednesday the town needs information on what streets the utility crews are working on so that officials can at least let residents know when they might expect to have power restored.
"We're not going to let it drop," Tetreau said, adding that the notification issue is not just a Fairfield problem. During a recent conference call, he said, "every town got on and voiced the same concerns that the level of communication has to be fixed."
Frustration levels for residents spike dramatically when they are not getting any information about problems like the widespread outages, Tetreau said.
Marone said that UI officials understand that frustration, adding that after events such as Tropical Storm Irene, they always review what they did and "see what we can do better."
Town officials said the lack of communication sometimes prevented the Department of Public Works from dispatching crews to clear roads because they have not been told by UI that power lines have been de-energized.
Tetreau also said the UI liaison assigned to the town needs to know which circuits are being worked on so that person can pinpoint those neighborhoods and keep residents updated.
Marone said utility crews from Connecticut and out of state are out working to get customers back on line as quickly as possible, though priority is given to areas that can be done quickly and will restore power to the greatest number of people.
"It hasn't worked perfectly from a communications standpoint," Marone admitted.
Scott Bartlett, Fairfield's public works superintendent, said Wednesday that DPW crews have been working since Sunday to clear roads, with an initial focus on the main roads in order to get traffic flowing.
In some instances, he said, public works crews had to redirect their efforts to dead-end roads, where residents' only way in or out was blocked.
"We have to consider the value of opening the road," Bartlett said. For instance, if the road were cleared of fallen trees but was still blocked by a utility pole and wires, the DPW crews' efforts were best directed elsewhere until United Illuminating could get there.
He said the town has had 50 DPW workers in the field, ranging from two-man crews with a chain saw to six-person teams with heavy loaders and trucks.
"Our strategy was to divide the town into our three snow routes," Bartlett said. "We felt it best to get a handle on the storm and keep the handle by shifting managers, town crews and contractors in more managable-sized work areas."
He said he is confident the DPW will have all tree debris removed by Saturday night, but workers will have to go back and remove damaged trees.
UI's local repairs appeared to be ramping up, he said, by Wednesday afternoon when the 12 utility crews working in town increased to 26.
The town has been able to clear some of the areas with lighter damage, Bartlett said, but officials would feel better if they could get to some of the harder hit areas.
As for piles of sand that the storm surge dumped on shoreline roads and the Penfield Beach parking lot, Bartlett said if the sand is clean it will go right back where it came from. If it is dirty, it gets hauled to the Penfield parking lot and gets screened before being returned to the beach. Sand that remains dirty because it was mixed with other soils is brought back to the DPW yard and used as a road product.
"Fairfield Beach Road is a work in progress," he said of the barrier beach neighborhood that was the hardest hit in town.
Another major DPW effort was to clear the sand that covered Pequot Avenue from Southport Beach.
"We like to feel we've made some good movement," Bartlett said. "We're getting there."