State seeks feedback on utilities at Fairfield hearing

FAIRFIELD — The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) held a public hearing Tuesday evening to hear feedback on the performance of local utilities.

PURA, a state agency under the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, regulates the rates and services of Connecticut’s investor-owned utility companies. It is currently conducting a study on the procedures, staffing and equipment levels of utilities to present to the state legislature.

Tuesday’s hearing was the third of four public hearings held throughout the state to gather feedback for the study on local utilities, including both Eversource Energy and United Illuminating Co. (UI), Fairfield’s electricity provider.

Concerns about UI’s emergency responsiveness arose this summer, when a 21-year-old Southington man died after an accident on the Fairfield-Bridgeport border during a July storm.

According to witnesses on the scene, firefighters waited nearly an hour for personnel from UI to arrive and extricate the man from his car, which had been crushed by a tree and entangled in downed power lines.

Fire Chief Denis McCarthy thanked PURA and UI for engaging with the town and evaluating response times, as well as other issues around utilities and emergency responsiveness in the area.

“We’re gratified that UI came with such a positive outlook and willingness to be problem-solvers, to work to hear our concerns and come up with solutions,” McCarthy said.

In his comment to PURA representatives, State Sen. Tony Hwang echoed the need to improve communication between emergency responders and utilities. This need, he said, is shared by constituents in all five towns he represents, which are powered by both UI and Eversource.

“Our first responders have to have a direct connection to our make-safe crews in the utilities,” Hwang said.

Other community leaders voiced their concerns and priorities to PURA at the hearing. Selectman-elect Nancy Lefkowitz discussed storm preparation, saying she wants the town to learn more strategies for preventing damage during weather events.

Mary Hogue, chair of the town’s Forestry Committee, brought up the impact trees have on storm damage and the need to responsibly trim trees to prevent limbs from downing wires.