Power Outage Outrage Follows Storm Isaias through Northeast
On top of a pandemic, a severe recession and massive civil unrest, Isaias barreled up the East Coast alternately as hurricane and tropical storm in the latest catastrophe for 2020.
And the season is still early. Tropical Storm Josephine—the earliest 10th-named storm on record—is next, percolating in the Caribbean Sea.
The slow response to Isaias by Northeast power providers has triggered legal action and calls for changes that range from carrot-and-stick contracting agreements to a municipal takeover.
"I am chagrined—that's probably a good word for it," said Alan Rubin, a principal at New York law firm Blank Rome LLP and co-head of its severe weather emergency recovery team.
"This is not the first time we've had these types of winds come through the Northeast, and we consistently make the same mistakes. I'm not sure why the states, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, don't have a good handle on how to do this."
Public-private partnerships could provide a more practical answer, according to Rubin. For example, non-technical people could remove debris, which he said could also help deal with the massive unemployment that took effect when the coronavirus escalated.
"An absolute takeover is a difficult process but a public-private partnership between the utility and the experienced people and between the governments and the politicians would allow the financing and the feasibility of improvements to be done by those folks and then the actual utility functioning could be done by the professionals who know what they are doing," he said.
Rubin said states and cities could tap money available under the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018.
"Between that and bonding that could be done by states or the municipalities that have bonding capability, the debt service could be taken care of by the cost from the government and we could begin the process of burying these lines."
Also, Rubin said, states and municipalities should have tree-topping and thinning programs every May, notably in heavily suburban environments, to make sure wind goes through trees and are not in direct lines.
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“Power Outage Outrage Follows Storm Isaias through Northeast,” by Paul Burton was published in The Bond Buyer on August 17, 2020.