Less than 24 hours after election results were in and moments after voting in members Jack Scavone as Chair and Rick Field as Vice Chair, the new council hit the floor running with a special meeting Wednesday evening to address Connecticut Light and Power's response to the unprecedented nor'easter of October 29.
The council also discussed how the town might handle the monumental task of debris removal from town streets and rights-of-way.
Town Manager Steve Werbner said he has many concerns with the utility company's response, which is being discussed also at the state level, to make sure there is not a repeat performance. He said there are real concerns about the allocation of CL&P's resources to Tolland, and he plans on testifying on the matter next Tuesday as part of a municipal delegation.
Werbner asked the council to authorize him to investigate both as an indiviudal town and as part of a larger conference of towns what recourse they might have to recoup from CL&P some of the costs expended to deal with the storm cleanup.
While the council voted to approve the authorization, it was not a unanimous decision. Councilman Sam Belsito opposed the authorization calling into question whether any utility could have handled a problem of such magnitude.
However, Councilman Josh Freeman said the authorization they were granting only allows Werbner to investigate the matter but does not authorize him to initiate legal proceedings or other such matters. Rather, he said, Werbner would need to present his findings to the council after which they would have the opportunity to discuss it further.
Councilman Jan Rubino said residents made it very clear at the Emergency Operations Center that they were displeased with CL&P's response.
"We owe it to our citizens to provide them an answer," Rubino said.
Of more urgent concern was how the town would handle the cleanup of brush and other debris in the storm's aftermath.
Werbner said the town had looked into the possibility of providing curbside collection of brush, but with such a small window of time to complete the work before the snow flies, it would simply not be possible. He added that attempting to do the work during the winter season would be labor intensive.
"Contracting out the work would be extremely expensive," Werbner added, saying that the costs for that collection process would be estimated at $600,000 for the town.
For now, Werbner said the town is providing the Cross Farms Recreation Area as a drop-off location for brush, and it is also suspending the outside burning restrictions for brush. He said the town will pick up debris in the public right of ways, but that leaving brush roadside for pickup would result in serious sight line issues as well as debris ending up falling into the road.
Werbner added that State Senator Bryan Hurlburt is requesting that the governor provide aid to municipalities for collection programs.
Dissatisfied with Werbner's recommendations, Belsito said he wanted to see Public Works and Parks and Recreation employees out in town trucks picking up all the brush.
"That's their job," said Belsito. "We don't all have pick ups and dump trucks so we have to depend on the town. I don't care if it takes five or six months or if it goes into next year, they owe it to the people to do it," he said.
However, Werbner said it would not be possible to divert all the Public Works employees from their other work, and even if they could, the town simply does not have the equipment to handle the job on a townwide basis.
Public Works Director Clem Langlois added that there are very real costs to the cleanup. He said they presently have two street crews cutting hanging limbs which is required by state law and the cost to the town is expected to run $200 an hour for the next 1-1/2 months. Langlois said the council needs to consider the costs of fuel, man hours and burn out of their employees.
"I feel this would put a burden on the town. It's not good," Langlois said.
Belsito said there are over 100 boy scouts in town eager to earn badges, and the town would be well served to call upon them to volunteer their services to clean up people's yards. He was particularly concerned about seniors and disabled residents who cannot physically do the work.
After some discussion the council agreed that a coordinated effort organized by the town between volunteer groups could make a good impact on the cleanup process.
"This town historically has pulled together. That's what makes this town so good," said Field, endorsing a volunteer effort.
Freeman concurred, suggesting the town make a list of those residents in need of volunteer cleanup help and putting seniors and disabled residents at the highest priority.
The Council discussed advertising the volunteer effort as a two-day program during the four-day Thanksgiving Day weekend.
Werbner advised Belsito to get a target date with the boy scouts and the town will put things into motion.