PECO

Power slowly returning to Tredyffrin Township — 1,100 remain without power on Sunday night

Downed treeAs the weekend ends, there’s a snow/ice mixture falling outside, with a National Weather Service prediction of an additional 1-3 inches.  After the last week this community has endured, no one is smiling about tonight’s snow or more in the forecast for later in the week.

It’s been five days since the historic Winter Storm Nika plummeted the Philadelphia region into darkness.  At its peak, there were 850,000 utility customers without power; restoration of power has now brought the number down to about 38,000 remaining households.  A review of the PECO website shows the majority without power in the region are customers in Chester County – 13,000 remain without power tonight. Tredyffrin Township remains the focal point of power outages in Chester County.  Although there is improvement in restoration, there are still 1,100 households without power on this cold, snowy Sunday night.

Today I ventured out around the township and the vastness of the winter storm damage is remarkable. Although the tree damage is township wide, in my opinion, the highest concentration of damage is on Valley Forge Mountain.  Both Tredyffrin and Schuylkill residents on VF Mountain have sustained major property damage – actually, I don’t think there are many houses that escaped the destruction.  After driving in that area, it’s now understandable why I’ve heard it described as a ‘war zone’.

Other areas that continue to be plagued with power outages and/or property damage is the Great Valley, especially along Yellow Springs Road, Croton Road between Upper Gulph and Warner Roads,   Strafford train station area including Crestline, W. Valley and Homestead Roads, Chesterbrook Boulevard, N. Valley between Swedesford and Lancaster Ave.

Although we all understand that this winter storm was monumental in many ways, once the region has its power fully restored, there needs to be a thorough review – what worked and what didn’t work.  In my opinion, PECO came up short on a number of levels.  First off, although the major power outage occurred on early Wednesday morning, it was Friday before PECO appeared to get itself fully mobilized, 48 hours after many residents had lost power.  By Friday, it finally became obvious to PECO officials, that they needed to call in reinforcements – and help did come, from Arkansas to Canada.  I saw one impressive line of 20+ Pike Utility trucks from North Carolina leaving PECO’s Berwyn location this afternoon.  It was reported that over 5,000 utility workers arrived to help restore power to the region.

Arguably, the most annoying thing that PECO did was to provide misinformation to its customers – I have yet to find anyone who received an accurate estimated time of restoration from PECO.  Rather than constantly changing individuals’ restoration time (making it impossible for people to plan)  PECO should have just said that they didn’t know when service would be restored. That approach would have been preferable to giving people false hope with their ‘by 11 PM’ daily speech!  We had a displaced family from Croton Road staying with us during the power outage and PECO changed their estimate time of restoration multiple times during any given day, adding immeasurable stress to an already stressful situation.  And this went on for 5 days until late this afternoon when service was restored and they returned home to 30-something degree temperatures (inside the house!) and major tree damage outside.

My criticism of PECO is not directed at those men and women serving on the front lines during this winter storm.  No, those workers in the field actually ‘doing the work’ are greatly appreciated and thanked for their efforts.  It was wonderful how excited people became when they saw utility trucks rolling into their neighborhood!   The criticism for misinformation, lack of communication and slowness to respond rests squarely with those at the top of the PECO pyramid.

One last note — If your power has not been restored, you need to call PECO and report the outage (again).

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Improving Conditions in Tredyffrin Township — Power Returning to Many Households!

What’s the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – the same could be say about restoring power to Tredyffrin Township and its surrounding areas.  Downed power lines and toppled trees left many roads impassable and neighborhoods with dangerous conditions. Winter Storm Nika is PECO’s second worst in their history in terms of power loss, exceeded only by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  However, as the third day without power ends for many residents, there are improving conditions to report.

Friday evening, I received a phone call from Tredyffrin Township Police Supt. Giaimo offering some updates:

  • Tredyffrin Township now has a crew of 75 PECO trucks, each with 2 employees, dedicated to our township and focused on completing the restoration of all power to residents.
  • The repairs on the main sewer break at Rts 252 & 23 in Valley Forge National Historic Park are progressing and the township’s Public Works and Engineering Departments are moving quickly to resolve the problem.
  • Tredyffrin Township building is open as a warming and charging station.  Although the website states the building is open until midnight, the township building will be open through the night, Saturday and Sunday, if needed.  Coffee and tea is available.
  • Supt. Giaimo strongly urged residents to check on their elderly neighbors.  If you are without power and need a place to stay, the police have an updated list of available local hotels.  They are also arranging for transportation to West Chester shelters, either by buses or in some cases, the police are driving the residents. Residents are encouraged to utilize the resources available at the township building.
  • Much improvement has been made on the road closures with many re-opened today.

Supt. Giaimo assured me that many in the Police Department “have been working around the clock to keep people as safe as possible”.

I have been in contact with Township Manager Bill Martin.  Just as the police chief, the township manager is also working very long hours but wanted me to know that “the hard work is done by all the staff – public works, police and support staff. They work above and beyond anything I have seen in all my years of public service, they care so much about what they do and the residents.”

The hope is that most of Tredyffrin Township should have their power restored by Saturday night – although it may be Sunday for some of the outlining areas.

People are reporting repair crews have arrived from all over the US –Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts and even crews from Canada!  It was interesting to hear a PECO representative say that they usually don’t receive a high volume complaints in a power outage until about the 72 hour mark but that this time the complaints started at less than 24 hours into the outage.  However, unlike the August storm of Hurricane Sandy, residents are dealing with below-zero temperatures during Winter Storm Nika.

Although I think that PECO could have moved quicker to organize following the power outage and PennDOT did not do its best at handling snow and ice covered roads, I have the highest praise for our home team in Tredyffrin – Supt. Giaimo and the Police Department and Township Manager Bill Martin and his support staff, public works and engineering staff.  In addition, we thank the Berwyn Fire Company Chief Eamon Brazunas and his staff of volunteer fire fighters and Chief Ira Dutter and the volunteers of Paoli Fire Company.   Many of these folks are exhausted having worked long hours, and in many cases leaving their own families and houses with similar power outages to help us – the residents of Tredyffrin – and deserve our appreciation and gratitude!

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Santa Arrives Early for Paoli Blues Fest … Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau Awards Festival $10,000 Marketing Grant!

Christmas came early this year for the Paoli Blues Fest!

Paoli Blues Fest, Inc. was notified on Friday that we are a 2012 grant recipient from the Chester County Conference & Visitors Bureau Foundation.  The Chester County Commissioners approved the CCCVB recommendations for grant recipients and Commissioner Ryan Costello confirmed the $10,000  award with a personal note of congratulations.

Thank you CCCVB for choosing the Paoli Blues Fest to receive one of the top 2012 marketing awards and thank you to our county commissioners for  approving the recommendations.

This matching fund award for event marketing will guarantee that the fourth annual blues festival and street fair on Saturday, October 6, 2012 will be even bigger and better than previous years!  Below is the press release for the award:

Paoli Blues Fest and Street Fair is Awarded $10,000 as 2012 Grant Recipient from Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau Foundation

Just in time for the holidays, the Chester County Commissioners approved the grant recommendations of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau Foundation and the Paoli Blues Fest and Street Fair is a 2012 grant recipient.

Co-chairing the annual blues festival and street fair with Marie Thibault, owner of Partners Advertising, the organization is always looking for funding opportunities.  Costs for the annual event are approximately $50K and the country’s economic climate has caused challenges for fund-raising. In addition to funding challenges, the event marketing and marketing costs continue to increase each year, as John Fattibene, partner in Harvest Financial and treasurer of Paoli Blues Fest, Inc. will attest.  Generous support for the Paoli Blues Fest is received from individuals and local company and corporate sponsorships, including Paoli Hospital, Paoli Village Shoppes, Malvern Federal Bank, PECO and WXPN, to name a few.  Additionally, Paoli Blues Fest receives generous advertising from many sources including Main Line Today Magazine, Main Line Neighbors, Main Line Suburban, the Philadelphia Inquirer and County Life Magazine.

Taking on the role of grant writer for Paoli Blues Fest, Inc., I was thrilled when our non-profit organization was awarded a grant in September from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts. This prestigious 2012 Philadelphia Arts Alliance award of $2,000 puts the blues festival among the best arts programs and events in the tri-county region. After only three years, the Paoli Blues Fest has grown to be the largest annual blues festival in the greater Philadelphia region with approximately 15,000 people attending in the festival in 2011.

Encouraged by the grant award from the PA Council of the Arts, I applied for a marketing grant from the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau Foundation for the 2012 annual blues festival. The CCCVB contributes half of the collected hotel occupancy tax to the Foundation and this provides the major source of funding for the grant program.  In addition, individuals and corporations also make tax-deductible contributions to the Foundation.

The Chester County Commissioners approved the 2012 grant recommendations of the CCCVB and I received the notice and a personal note of congratulations for the Paoli Blues Fest from County Commissioner Ryan Costello on Friday, December 17.  The CCCVB awarded a total of $163,300 for 2012 capital grants and marketing and event awards to 21 non-profit organizations.  The grants awarded ranged from $800 for the Brandywine Singers to a capital grant of $20,000 to the Schuylkill River Heritage Center for its visitors center.  In the marketing and event category, the Paoli Blues Fest was awarded one of the top honors with a $10,000 grant.

As anyone who has written a grant application knows, the process can be tedious and time-consuming, especially given our current economic climate.  Because of funding challenges, the competition for grant money has become more competitive and the grant requirements more rigorous. The Paoli Blues Fest Board of Directors and committee are overwhelmed by the generous CCCVB award and honored to be chosen as a 2012 recipient.

The fourth annual blues festival and street fair may not be until October 6, 2012 but the planning will begin in January. The committee is a core group of dedicated individuals who meet throughout the year, planning every detail for the one-day event.  The annual blues festival and street fair is a great way to get involved in the community and we are always looking for new volunteers to join us.  Whether it is serving on the festival committee or helping out in the beer and wine garden on the day of the blues festival, there is plenty to do and something for everyone.

If you are interested in helping with the 2012 Paoli Blues Fest and street fair, email Pattye Benson at  tredyffrincommunitymatters@gmail.com or call 610.644.6759.

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St. Davids Golf Club, Burned-out Light Bulbs & TE School District Finances!

I attended last night’ Board of Supervisors meeting and my friend, Ray Clarke attended the T/E School District’s Finance Meeting.  Following my update on the supervisors meeting, please read Ray’s comments.

The agenda for last night’s supervisors meeting went quickly and there was no ‘new matters’ from board members.  I was prepared for ‘new matters’ from citizens with two topics.  Based on the supervisors meeting of October 3, I asked Supervisor Olson (Bob Lamina and EJ Richter were absent) if St. Davids Golf Club had been contacted.  Olson deferred to Mimi Gleason who said yes, the club was contacted and said it was a positive conversation.  I asked about the timeline for response from the club re the sidewalks and her response was that there was no time limit.  In other words, I said the issue remains ‘open ended’ to which she responded yes.  Bottom line, it may have taken us 21 months to get to this point in time with St. Davids Golf Club, but apparently nothing is going to move forward anytime soon, in the way of enforcement, etc..  Was the only way to receive an update (status) on the sidewalks at St. Davids was to ask the same question at every Board of Supervisors meeting? I guess that is correct.

Second citizen matter from me last night was the burned out light bulb situation in the township.  Although I have focused on Chesterbrook and Duportail on Community Matters, I have noticed other area lights out (Old Eagle School Rd. as an example).  My questions produced some interesting facts:

  1. The township (residents) pays PECO per light post, regardless if there are electrical issues or if the lights are working or not.
  2. The township has a yearly maintenance contract with Lenni Electrical to change light bulbs.  Some have suggested that perhaps the township was trying to save money and maybe wasn’t calling the company for maintenance as a way to avoid service call expenses.  Well, I discovered that the township (residents) pays a flat fee regardless of how many (or how few) times they come out to change the light bulbs!
  3. The pink ribbons are placed by township staff to indicate to Lenni Electrical where light bulbs need replacement.  I noticed driving to the township building that there are pink ribbons on street lights that have working light bulbs and questioned why weren’t the ribbons removed when the light bulbs were changed?  Obvious, I would think.  According to Steve Burgo, township engineer, they know that this is a problem and are working with the contractor to get them to remove the pink ribbons.

Mimi cited ongoing electrical problems on Chesterbrook Boulevard as the cause for the non-working light bulbs. I suggested that the electrical problem with some of the Chesterbrook lights has existed for 27+ years.  The response from Mimi Gleason, was that they were working with PECO and that State Rep Warren Kampf had been called for assistance.

After leaving the township building, I decided to do a more scientific study of counting the burned-out light bulbs on Chesterbrook and Duportail Rds.  I drove down one side of Chesterbrook Blvd. to Valley Forge Road, turned around and drove back, counting as many of the burned-out light bulbs as I could find.  This 2-mile (or less) stretch of roads doesn’t have 19 burned-out light bulbs, there are 37 non-working street lights.

Am I the only one who has a problem with this? We are all taxpayers and our money is paying PECO for these lights and our money is paying Lenni Electrical change the light bulbs.  Where’s the accountability on this issue? I remain hopeful that at least one of our supervisors will take up the cause of township light bulbs.

Moving on to last night’s TE School District Finance Committee meeting.  While I was busy sorting through the burned-out light bulb situation, Ray Clarke was at the Finance Committee meeting.  He offers the following comments with his own editorial remarks.  As always, I am appreciative that Ray not only attends the school board meetings, but takes the time to detail his thoughts for Community Matters.  Thanks Ray!

The TESD Finance Committee meeting turned up a few points of interest on Monday night.

  1. The district’s 2010/11 financials got a nice boost from the decision to self-insure healthcare benefits coupled with better than projected claims experience. That turned out to be a $1.3 million favorable variance, which in turn generated a $0.9 million surplus for the year. So our Fund Balance, combined with an additional $0.5 million which under previous accounting rules was separate (I think), is (6/30/2011) now up to a munificent $31 million. (Note, I came in slightly late to this discussion, and there was no handout on this, so my numbers may not be precise)
  2. Also on the plus side, the Committee discussed what to do with the restoration of Corbett’s proposed cut to the state reimbursement of 50% of social security taxes, worth $1.3 million this year, which came in after TE’s 2011/12 budget was passed. The administration proposed ~$200K for postponed text-book buys and ~$300K mostly for technology spending. This generated a lot of debate, essentially asking the question: what is going to be the impact of, say, $60,000 for piloting applications for iPads, versus the current technology environment. To my mind this is the tip of a much bigger iceberg: how will we use technology spending to improve the analytic or creative skills of our students? If we need a pilot to answer that question, fine, but should we spend $60,000 for a pilot? It was agreed that this would be subject for future Board discussion.
  3. Important upcoming dates: November 3rd for the Tax Study Group’s presentation of the pros and cons of and EIT, and November 14thfor a special School Board meeting to consider notification of the intent to request a referendum on the April 24th ballot. Some important things (from my perspective) to bear in mind here:The official financial projection model is being modified to remove the assumption of a Act 1 index 1.7% property tax increase for 2012/13, so the base case is not both a property and an income tax. The base case gap for 2012/13 is currently $5.5 million. (It’s not clear that the model has been updated yet for the actual healthcare cost and fund balance outcomes.)
    1. The TSG’s approach is to present the features of an EIT independent of the alternatives; the Board (and potentially voters) will have to decide the merits of those pros and cons relative to its own assessment of the pros and cons of alternatives like cutting educational programs, raising property taxes or – for a few years – using some of that Fund Balance.
    2. Unknown actions of the townships, which would be entitled to claim up to 50% of the revenues from a voter-approved residential EIT, loom large. How highly would the BOS weigh education versus the township’s own needs?
    3. Of course, totally moot unless the School Board votes to ask the question, and the voters approve it, since there is no sign that the townships are mulling and EIT of their own.
    4. Of course, the Republican candidates for the School Board have already decided the EIT question for themselves without waiting for the TSG analysis. Presumably they are part of the minority in TE that a) does not pay the tax already, and b) has an income greater than 40% of the assessed value of their house, so would rather see any gap (after using some of that fund balance) made up from cuts in the education program or property tax increases.

On the TEEA contract: the district is required by the state to begin negotiations for the next contract in January. The way this all gets going is for the union to send a letter to the district at that time.

How creative can the parties be? Is there a way to trade-off much lower healthcare premiums/benefits (that encourage personal accountability) for maybe allowing step increases, keeping the total compensation cost within at the very least the increase modeled in the district’s current projection?

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Light Bulbs . . . Who’s Responsible? Township staff or PECO?

On my way home from choir practice last night on Walker Road in Wayne, I drove through Chesterbrook on Chesterbrook Boulevard to Duportail Road to Swedesford Road.  Between the Great Valley and Gateway Shopping Center, I make this trip regularly.  I’ve never clocked the distance but I’m guessing that it is less than 2 miles from Swedesford Road to Valley Forge Road going through Chesterbrook.

As I drove on Chesterbrook Blvd. there was this real ‘darkness’ along the road.  It was 9:30 PM and after narrowing missing someone walking on the road, it struck me as to ‘why’ it was so dark. Street lights – where were they and why weren’t they on?  From that point on Chesterbrook Blvd, I began counting light bulbs that were out . . . by the time I got to Duportail Road, I had counted 19 lights out!  Understand that this wasn’t an orchestrated, every other one light out, by design.  There were complete dark areas where no lights were on.  Chesterbrook Blvd. does not have sidewalks but has a bike path, which is why I saw several people out walking last evening.

I recall someone asked about the lights at a Board of Supervisors meeting and there was some discussion about PECO, calendars, schedules, etc.  As far as I am concerned, lighting (or lack of lighting) is a safety issue.  Is the lighting of township roads (replacing light bulbs) a responsibility of township staff?  Is it PECO?  Also, does the township pay a flat fee to PECO for lighting, regardless if the lights are working or not?

I have also been told by a resident that there are issues with lighting (or lack of) at the Paoli train station.  Some may not agree that lighting is a safety issue but if a pedestrian is hit because the driver cannot see him, isn’t that cause for concern?

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Let There be Light . . . Electrical Power Restored!

After 48 hours without electricity or water and a husband stranded in Minneapolis since last week, I am thrilled to announce that my camping experience has come to an end!

By the time I went to bed last night, I was feeling rather desperate about the situation.  I had grown tired of contacting PECO; each time I spoke to them the news kept getting worse and their updates on restoration day and time pushed further out.  In addition to no electricity, we have wells on our property so we were also without water.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, there were 5.6 million homes left without power from North Carolina to Maine last night.   Our electricity was restored overnight and I am grateful to no longer be included in that statistic.   

To all those in the community helping with the post-Irene clean-up I thank you – I and 391 other households in the Great Valley area appreciatel our electricity this morning. And for those still without power, my hope is that your wait will not be much longer.

PS:  Jeff arrived home safely at midnight from Minneapolis – thank you Southwest Airlines!

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Spring Forward

Wow, has today not been absolutely miserable, ugh!  The rain, the clouds, the darkness . . . not good.  I live in the Great Valley and we lost our power at 7:30 AM and we just got it back on — 3:30 PM, 8 hours.  Isn’t it amazing how much you come to depend on electricity.  Since the outage only involved 350 homes I am assuming that PECO had higher priority situations.  Regardless, I’m certainly glad that power has been restored in my neighborhood!

It’s that time of the year again when we switch to daylight savings time. The sun will begin to rise earlier and set later with our days getting longer and longer. Hopefully, our longer days will be full of sunshine (and not too much more of this rain), which is certainly not the case today!  To stay current on the time change, you’ll want to set your clock ahead one hour before you go to bed tonight. The phrase “Spring forward, Fall back” helps people remember how Daylight Saving Time affects their clocks.   At 2 AM on the second Sunday in March, we set our clocks forward one hour ahead.

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