Mon Aug 17 2020 04:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

Ocean County Freeholders agree it's time to sit down with the leaders of the power companies that service Ocean County residents and businesses to determine how to move forward after recent widespread power outages following Tropical Storm Isaias.

"We will continue to be an advocate for the ratepayers and the people of Ocean County," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, who has been leading the county's response to the outages that resulted in people throwing out medications and food ruined by days without electricity. "Maybe it's time for the power companies to review their no reimbursement policies due to power outages. Maybe it's time for them to do the right thing and provide ratepayers with a credit for the loss due to outages.

"These power outages which in some areas went on for days affect all of our residents – from young families to our seniors," Vicari said. "It's not only the loss of food but also important medications kept in refrigerators. It was the loss of work for people working at home – and all of this compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. This is a time for compassion."

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders discussed the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias and in particular the problems caused by power outages at length during a preboard meeting Aug. 12.

Each of the Freeholders commended the efforts of the utility company local supervisors and line workers as they worked tirelessly to get power back to residents and businesses. Jersey Central Power & Light Company and Atlantic City Electric service Ocean County.

"The linemen and women do an excellent job," Vicari said. "Our concern is with corporate. The corporations must be held accountable."

At the height of the outages, 211,256 combined power company customers were without power in Ocean County.

"The Board has a growing concern that we haven't even reached the height of hurricane season and we have already experienced these kinds of power problems," Vicari said. "That is why it's important to sit down with the power companies to discuss what can be done to help the consumers impacted for days by power outages."

Vicari and Freeholder Gerry P. Little have called upon the Governor to request the power companies to reimburse residents who lost food and medication as a result of being without power for a few days.

"Medications are costly and many need to be refrigerated," Little said. "When you lose insulin or antibiotics, pharmacies will not replace them immediately and insurance will not cover a second time. "This is truly a hardship for senior citizens and working families," he said.

Freeholder Gary Quinn said it's important that the utility companies focus more on upgrades and maintenance of their equipment and lines in order to provide assurances the power will stay on.

"There is no questions we will see more and more of these storms," Quinn said. "The power companies need to provide their supervisors and line workers with the tools to get the job done. This in no way is the fault of the supervisors and line workers. This rest on the shoulders of the corporations."

Freeholder Virginia E. Haines noted the power companies need to increase their efforts to maintaining lines and infrastructure to reduce the potential for future outages.

"We have seen this before," Haines said. "Power companies need to take additional steps to upgrade their systems so residents won't be put in this predicament again."

Vicari added that in addition to meeting with the power companies the Board will continue to work with Monmouth County in order to secure a future seat on the state Board of Public Utilities.

Vicari along with Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone announced that they will work together to get a qualified candidate onto the BPU representing the Jersey Shore.

"Without a voice on this utility regulatory board we face an uphill battle with the power companies in getting help for residents whether it be from Tropical Storm Isaias, other coastal storms or failures on the part of the utility companies," said Vicari. "As Jersey Shore counties, we pump a great deal of dollars into the economy from tourism revenues.

"Lengthy power outages as we just saw hurt tourism which is an economic engine for both Monmouth and Ocean counties," Vicari said.

In Ocean County, the population of 600,000 year-round residents swells to 1.2 million people during the summer months. In Monmouth County, the population of 617,000 sees more than 8.9 million visitors, with the majority during the summer season.

Tourism revenues in Ocean County total $5 billion and Monmouth County total $2.6 billion.

"We rely on our power companies to provide a service," Vicari said. "When the power goes out they need to take responsibility. It's all part of the cost of doing business."