Assemblyman John F. McKeon unveiled a package of bills to ramp up utility infrastructure at a news conference on Tuesday at the Department of Public Works (DPW) facility in South Orange.
Village President Alex Torpey and DPW Director Tom Michetti introduced McKeon. "It's no accident that we're in South Orange for this announcement," said Torpey. He explained that in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, a live wire fell across the facility's driveway, trapping DPW staff in the building.
McKeon's proposed legislation is twofold, he explained. First, he proposes that the state establish requirements for newly-installed and replacement electric utility poles and transmission towers. The new poles are a higher grade, which means they are stronger and able to withstand greater wind speeds.
Second, said McKeon, he would direct the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to study the feasibility of adopting those requirements. McKeon said he's still waiting to find out how some of PSE&G's recovery estimates were generated.
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey spoke in support of the proposed legislation. Elected officials from communities attended, including South Orange Police Chief James Chelel, West Orange Fire Chief Peter F. Smeraldo, Jr., South Orange trustee Howard Levison, and Maplewood Township Committee member Marlon K. Brownlee.
In a press release announcing the conference, McKeon said, “As we worked collectively with area mayors, emergency management officials and representatives of utilities on joint efforts to assist storm ravaged constituents, we were able to identify and craft legislation to strengthen safety in utility infrastructure and mitigate future damage statewide."
He also said the propsed bills were intended to minimize the danger to utility line personnel and emergency first responders.
Madison Mayor Robert H. Conley spoke of the "Madison miracle." Madison, he explained, owns its utility and was able to respond to crisis quickly. "We are prepared for the rain," he said, "because of the work we do on sunny days. That's what is happening here, with all of us assembled."