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Town-Wide Conference Call Recap

Mayor Skibitsky and Assemblyman Bramnick say PSE&G crews are "working and staying" in the area until power is restored.

Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky began the 5:30 p.m. town-wide conference call by acknowledging the catastrophic damage the Town has undergone but noted that when compared to what other communities have experienced Westfielders have to count their blessings.

Skibitsky said as a result of the storm, 153 roads were blocked, of which 57 are now open. PSE&G must address power line issues before the remaining closed streets can re-open. Ten homes sustained damage to the point that they are no longer inhabitable. Eleven garages also suffered extensive damage and 52 additional homes also sustained serious damage. 

The mayor told listeners "numerous people are advocating on your behalf" in regards to power restoration but noted that PSE&G crews have a "monumental task" in front of them. 

Rick Thigpin, vice president of Government Affairs for PSE&G, said the utility is working very hard to restore power. He explained that there are 12,400 meters in town. At the height of the storm 10,000 went out. Currently, 7,900 meters are out. Thigpin said Westfielders can expect to see that number drop "substantially" this weekend. 

He explained that as a result of the storm, Westfield's electrical system needs to be "rebuilt from the ground up." Power in Westfield is fed by five substations, he explained, with 28 circuits coming into town. Currently 12 of those are out "for various reasons." The vast majority of damage is tree-related, he said. 

He noted that residents who see power restored to a neighbor's home but not their own should call 800-436-7734 to report their outage as a tree may have damaged their wires. A crew will then be resent to that area to make the necessary repairs. 

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said residents should know PSE&G is "not only here, they’re staying here" and have been working in Westfield for last 24 hours.

Senator Tom Kean reminded residents to check in on neighbors and, if possible, share an extension cord from a generator, especially as the next two nights are expected to be colder than previous evenings.

Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairman Alexander Mirabella reminded residents without heat or electricity that they can warm up, charge their electronic devices and get meals at the Union County Regional Shelter, at 220 Walnut Street in Cranford. The shelter is expected to remain open through to the end of the day on Wednesday, Nov. 7 and space is available for overnight stays.

Residents needing information or looking to volunteer should call 908-654-9881. Counselors and FEMA representatives are on-site for those in need of assistance.

Mirabella also said the county is working to address getting main roads such as Central Avenue clear again to alleviate the pressure on side roads. 

He also reminded residents that they can vote before Tuesday, Nov. 6 by visiting the County Clerk's office located at 300 North Avenue E. in Westfield. The office will be open tomorrow, Sunday, Nov. 4 from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and again on Monday, Nov. 5 until 3 p.m. All residents can vote on Election Day at their regular polling places, which will either have power or will be powered by generators.

Town Administrator Jim Gildea said at this time 40 percent of Westfield's road are closed "in some way, shape or form." He said crews are escorting PSE&G workers to locations and the Town has a comprehensive list road by road and is aware of all road closures and blockages. He said DPW crews are clearing debris from schools and will continue to do so tonight and tomorrow. 

Westfield Board of Education President Rich Mattessich said aside from just the lack of electricity, the decision to open schools will also be based on the ability of students to travel safely to and from school.

He said schools superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan is evaluating all of these factors as well as if staff, many of whom do not reside in town, will have the ability or gasoline to travel to school safely.  

Aside from lack of power, Mattessich said, the school buildings were ready on Wednesday. He said parents will continue to be alerted through the Honeywell system and once the server is restored, the school's email and website will be working and updated once again. He asked that residents who live next to schools not put their debris in front of school property as it interferes with student drop-off and pick-up. He reiterated that safety for students and staff is top priority. If students cannot safely attend school, they will not be penalized. 

If the schools have power, the schedule is as follows:

Mon-Tues-Wed. Grades K-5 follow half-day schedule: 8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.  

Grades 6-12 will follow a regular full day schedule.

Parent-teacher conferences will be held though if a parent cannot attend, it can easily be rescheduled. 

Thursday and Friday: All students in all grades will follow a full day schedule. As these were previously vacation days, students who had made other plans will not be penalized for not attending school. 

Mattessich said they have also reached out to bus companies to ensure buses have enough gas.

Jefferson Elementary School located at 1200 Boulevard will open at 8 p.m. this evening to provide warmth to those without heat. The school will not provide food or sleeping arrangements, just heat. It will remain open all night until school is open. 

Westfield Fire Chief Dan Kelly spoke again about the importance of not using fuel-powered equipment in the home. He said the fire department and rescue squad have been called to several incidents as a result of not using equipment safely. To read a message from Kelly, click here. 

Westfield Police Chief David Wayman said public safety has not been compromised as a result of the storm. He asked residents to be mindful of Gov. Christie's executive order regarding gasoline. 

Skibitsky also noted that the storm has been tough on Westfield merchants and said the Town is advocating on their behalf to get them "up and running as soon as possible." He said when they are open again, think of Westfield first as many will need "an economic shot in the arm" to recover from the loss of business.

Meghan Avallone of the Westfield Board of Health said residents can call 211 for answers to public health questions or contact FEMA at 800-621-3362 or visit www. disasterassistance.gov. A mental health hotline staffed by professionals is available at 1-877-294-4357. She said water is safe to drink and recommended that residents 'like' NJ American Water's Facebook page for continuous updates. 

Skibitsky also noted that there is an extension for tax payments and no penalties will be assessed until Nov. 8. 

There will be a one-time pick up for organic debris. It started today around schools and residents are asked to do their best in terms of separating leaves and debris.  

Recycling will resume on Nov. 12. The conservation center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and will be open during the course of next week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

The mayor reminded residents to treat every downed wire as a live wire and to not block driveways while waiting in line for gas. 

For those who wish to hear the call in its entirety, it was recorded and can be heard at www.westfieldnj.gov. 

Michael Katz November 04, 2012 at 03:10 AM
I know it is not so important but is it confirmed that trick or treating will take place on Monday in Westfield?
pastmike November 04, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Good call tonight...thanks to all who put it together.....Lots of lights started going on afterwards (which was great), but the information and communication was much appreciated--
Yvette Brown - Brunson November 04, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Yvette Brown -Brunson Although still in the dark with no electricity, this informational forum did shed a little light for me. Thank you mayor Andy for your efforts in keeping us posted of the current events in Westfield.
Mike November 04, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Great call, great information and well run, thanks for all you are doing
Sue Feldman November 04, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Most of the loss of power is tree related. As a "first world" country, having our utilities dangling from poles that come down during every bad storm is absurd! I would gladly support a bond referendum to put our utilities underground. How do we get this started?
James November 04, 2012 at 12:23 PM
They didn't mention Halloween but according to the pseg numbers, still more than 55 percent if town is without power. That should go to under 50 today but I still don't think that's. enough for Halloween tomorrow (too many dark streets especially with daylight savings time) and not enough school neighborhoods ready for school to open. With the power going back on to many friends and neighbors, we may feel that we are close to the end, but it is still more than half at this point. I think the town and utilities have done a great job te last 2 or 3 days but there is still much to do. I just want to put it in perspective.
Elizabeth Alterman (Editor) November 04, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Thanks, Brendan, I've added this link above. Thanks again, Liz
keeping it real November 04, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Not to be rude, but the last thing on my mind is "trick or treating" I think that ship has sailed. My kids put on their Halloween costumes & I hid candy around the house. Lets focus on what's important please!!
KT November 04, 2012 at 02:18 PM
There are a lot of people who have left town. I am hoping the Board of Ed will make a decision about school tomorrow sooner than later to give them all time to travel back in time. Thanks.
Westfield76 November 04, 2012 at 02:38 PM
+1 to 'keeping it real'! Even my 8 yr old is over trick or treating and just wants heat back.
MAT November 04, 2012 at 07:01 PM
We should present a formal proposal for the removal of all the town trees that present a threat to the power lines... Walk around and you will see how much damage could have been prevented just by pruning those trees or removing them if they were rotten....
Enough already November 04, 2012 at 07:05 PM
You can get power today, simply go out & buy a generator.
Enough already November 04, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I have been in Westfield since 1955 and over those 57 years, wide spread power loss has occurred 5 times. Not too bad, an average of once ever 10 years or so. If that is too many times, then don't be a cheapskate and go buy a generator and STOP COMPLAINING!
MAT November 04, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Taxpayer: I have a generator. From what you say I guess you are OK having today exactly the same infrastructure you had in 1955... Who is the cheapskate?
Renee November 04, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Bravo Mat
Jeff B November 04, 2012 at 07:59 PM
RE: Thursday and Friday: All students in all grades will follow a full day schedule. As these were previously vacation days, students who had made other plans will not be penalized for not attending school. Brendan, as an about to be new Board member, I hope you appreciate how this statement appears. The only way there can be no penalty at all is if nothing is taught on these two days. In that case, opening the schools is just a sham to meet the 180 day rule.
Barbara Frankowicz November 04, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Agree 100%
Eric November 04, 2012 at 08:28 PM
It is almost 4pm on Sunday. Think a decision about the schools can be made? Scotch plains canceled this morning. Streets are still like a war zone still. Let's wait til last minute again so no one can make plans!
Eric November 04, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Where is Dr Dolan? How can the school website not have a backup?? Does she know that other cities and states forgive the days when it is a state of emergency??
Michelle S November 05, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Ha! :)
Gary McCready November 05, 2012 at 02:43 PM
The only true penalty that matters is the high school absence policy, where if you miss too many days in a class you do not get credit for it. I'm not sure if that is a state mandate or not, but for all other grades, I'm sure the teachers will work with the students.to allow work and tests to be made up.
Gary McCready November 05, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The Westfield schools have been getting out the required information via their "Honeywell" email/text/phone alert system, which has been working quite well in my opinion - and the district website is functioning at least Monday, 11/5 10am. The town would do well to use a similar alerting system (they bought it at the same time the school district did in 2008 ) but apparently never took the time to properly implement it for the public. I'm sorry, but twitter or flyers do not reach out the same way getting a phone call, email or text can. Many towns in Union County use a similar county system to effectively communicate. For the schools, you may start here www.westfieldnjk12.org/alert which leads you to here (Click on "parent" under the login box) https://instantalert.honeywell.com Westfield town link for the alerting system never really implemented http://www.westfieldnj.gov/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC=%7BBE29CCB2-4122-4A70-941F-3D629F5ABE75%7D
buzz November 05, 2012 at 03:23 PM
The Westfield Library had power and only opened for regular hours. Why wouldn't they extend hours like Fanwood library did? By limiting hours the place was packed. This was the time to do the most they could possibly could.
John A. November 05, 2012 at 08:14 PM
As of about 10 a.m. today, Monday, the two senior citizens buildings on Boynton Avenue still have no power. They have been without heat since last Monday night. There are several hundred seniors in these two buildings and the fact these facilities have not been a priority is inexcusable and a disgrace. Where are the Westfield political leaders? Why are they not putting burning up the phone lines, putting pressure on PSE&G to get heat to these people, many of whom have health issues and/or are oxygen. Is this any way to treat our senior citizens?
Elizabeth Alterman (Editor) November 05, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Hi John A., we put out a story on this yesterday. Here's the link: http://patch.com/A-zpYH Thanks to the generosity of the Westfield community, ample amounts of hot food and beverages, flashlights and batteries were delivered. But, I agree, power needs to be restored as soon as possible. Thanks, Liz
John A. November 05, 2012 at 08:19 PM
hot food? when did this start? they had been going door-to-door handing out peanut butter sandwiches.
Elizabeth Alterman (Editor) November 05, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Hi John, I understand hot food was being distributed last evening and I was told they had more than enough. Were you there this morning? Many people have contacted me who are still willing to bring hot meals if they're needed. Thanks, Liz
John A. November 05, 2012 at 08:53 PM
yes, i was there around 10 a.m. the place was still dark.
qwerty4 November 05, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Now, I understand. You're just an old cranky person. The problem is that if you would get out of Ye Olde Colonial Westfield you would quickly discover that many towns with similar problems are WAY ahead of us in getting things done. I'd be happy to share the info with you if you have an open mind. Taxpayer, if you don't care about how your tax dollars are spent, you have too much money. Suggest you follow the lead of others like Ted Turner and donate your money to charity. The concern is more about what they are doing with our money. I saw two front end loaders on our street last Wednesday but not another soul since. Where are they hiding?What are they doing? Do you really think that we should ignore the issues which this storm uncovered? The mayor said the other day that the town could'nt clear the blockage on Central Ave because it's a county road. But yet, the town could afford to put no less than TEN police on the same street to direct traffic by the Exxon station. I sure don't think thats good government and I have the same right as you to complain about it as you do to belittle people.
Enough already November 05, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Mat: #1 I'm not old, I moved to Westfield as a youngster. What solution do you offer to improve the electrical distribution system in town? Moving it all underground? I have an interest in a construction/excavation company and would love to have it bid on a $50 to $75 million, yes, MILLION, dollar project. How much can I put you down for as a donor?

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