by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter 2/2012
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I’m gassing up my car and a National Grid truck pulls into the lot. And then I realized, when was the last time I even thought about what happened to Foxboro last year, when we had two power outages in two months, and both outages lasted over five days? And as I drove away I thought — what happened? Where did Foxboro’s outrage go? Where did the demand for answers go? Why have we heard virtually nothing? What happened to all that anger after the days without power?
And then I remembered… Ah — the casino debate.
We — Americans in the 21st century — are so busy, so multitasked, so in a rush to move on to the next thing, that we have become ridiculously distractible. Our attention span for the double power outage debacle seemed to end as soon as the lights came back on and we were all “heard” at the town meeting.
Have we forgotten last year? Two power outages. The first was in August during Hurricane Irene, when this town — the entire town — lost power for the better part of a week, along with states up and down the Eastern seaboard. Hurricanes hit every year and utilities know that. Clearly, the power companies were grievously unprepared. And their response was abysmal and negligent, especially in our town. Remember? No response from National Grid. No National Grid trucks spotted until days later.
Foxboro’s power outage and the lack of response was at the top of the news for a week.
We all lived through it; you remember the spoiled food, life threatening emergencies, medical crisis, safety concerns, evacuation of seniors, and all the attendant issues and drama during that long, dark week. It was well documented and reported and I need not repeat it here. We as a town were united in our anger and outrage.
We wanted answers.
Barely two months later, an October Nor’easter — a pitifully small storm by local standards — hit, and again, incredulously, we lost power for almost a week. Again, no response from National Grid. Again, no National Grid trucks spotted until days later. Again, seniors evacuated. Spoiled food. Pitch black streets at night. Life-threatening emergencies. Shelters opened. And worse, unlike August, we now had the very real problem of how to heat our homes. For almost a week.
And this time, a Brookfield woman died from hypothermia.
We all lived through it — you were there.
And in each crisis, our selectmen, our fire and police, town management, and so many volunteers and good souls did an outstanding job to maintain order, protect us, feed us, and got things done… That hard work will always be remembered. They were there for us. We as a town were united.
In November, representatives from National Grid met with the town of Foxboro — just an hour or so after parts of the town had lost power again. The outrage and anger was apparent immediately, but the meeting was civil as citizen after citizen spoke at the microphone expressing their fury at National Grid for the grievously lacking response to both storms. Town government demanded answers.
Again, you remember it well; I do not need to detail it here.
But as each person spoke, the National Grid representative had no answers. She would get back to us. She would look into that. She agreed it wasn’t right what had happened. She didn’t have that information with her. She couldn’t speak to that point. She wasn’t sure. She didn’t know but would find out. She scribbled in her notebook.
And to be truthful, I really felt bad for her — she was clearly the sacrificial lamb that National Grid sent to Foxboro. Where was National Grid president Marcy Reed? Where was anyone who COULD answer our questions?
And a good friend of mine, a fellow resident who I will not embarrass by name, and a person who has never said an unkind word to anyone, looked at the National Grid rep and said, “I don’t believe you.” This friend, a person of integrity, had enough and told the rep that he did not believe a word coming out of her mouth. And the room burst into applause. And then another resident said the same thing: We don’t believe you.
We all felt that way. Appeasement would come through action and answers, not empty promises.
We went home or switched off the FCA coverage of the meeting, and we, united Foxboro, were, for the moment, hopeful that the answers would be found, plans put into place, and this long outage would not be repeated.
And then the casino debate began — all attention focused on that, splintering this town into warring factions, and public meetings became so out of control that only pitchforks, torches and cries of “burn the witch!” were missing. (You know I am not being funny here). The behavior at the casino meetings had none of the restraint, respect or decorum at the National Grid meeting. No, these meetings were textbook “How NOT to get things done, how NOT to have a civil debate.”
What the hell happened? Look, the casino question is absolutely important to this town and must be addressed, hopefully in a more civil manner, and it will be — over time. I’m not asking that we all join hands and sing kumbaya. We as a town — any town — will always be faced with issues and questions that, in some situations, may divide us for a time. A dog park. A casino. And whatever comes up next. And next. Such is life. I don’t like the way many people (on either side of the issues) are conducting themselves, but that’s a discussion for another time.
But what happened to our united town, demanding answers to the outrage of two power outages? Why have there been sporadic, unexplained outages since? Where are the answers to what happened? What are the plans that this will never happen again? Where is the plan that shows us in the next outage how National Grid will get the power restored quickly? What changes will be made, are being made? What contingencies are in place? How can we as a town help?
I am suggesting for your consideration that in our rush to move on to the next thing, the next problem, the next issue, the next whatever, we as a town seems to have forgotten all about two catastrophic power failures last year and our righteous demand for answers. Friends, we were almost a week without power — TWICE. This isn’t about spoiled food and inconvenience and not having TV. It’s about safety. It’s about being able to heat the house. It’s about the babies and the elderly and the sick. When the very safety of Foxboro is compromised twice, I think we can agree that we should continue to press for answers, to continue to demand reassurances, and unite in our desire for the common good.
I, for one, get nervous every time that snow is in the forecast. Tell me YOU don’t. The power IS going to go out again. We all know it is. How many days will we be willing to put up with the time? Five? Ten? Must there be avoidable injuries? Does someone in our town have to freeze to death, does there have to be a preventable tragedy, for this to stick?
Last year we citizens of Foxboro were united in our quest for answers — we were justifiably angry — but united and civil. We must not let the “question du jour” (WHATEVER that question may be) distract from the fact that the National Grid outages are still unanswered, still unresolved, still without concrete plans so that it never happens again.
THAT is what we, as a town, should be angry about. THAT is what we should be fighting for.
Update Thursday, March 8, 2012: After this ran, National Grid president Marcy Reed sent a personal letter to the Foxboro Reporter detailing work that had been done (and was being done) to update Foxboro on National Grid’s progress [click here to read it]. I really appreciated that she took the time to do this, and I ran this letter to the editor in the following week’s edition:
To the editor,
I would like to personally say thank you to Marcy Reed, President of National Grid, for her letter last week, “National Grid working to restore confidence of columnist, town” in response to my recent column about Foxboro’s double power outages.
Ms. Reed’s personal letter to this newspaper addressed many of the power outage questions and concerns I brought up in my column — concerns we as a town share after the nightmare we endured last year. Foxboro felt very abandoned twice last year.
Ms. Reed’s letter helped to restore confidence (at least to me) that National Grid IS working so that our week-long outages don’t occur again, and that contingency plans for future power outages are in place or being worked out.
Her letter listing details of the efforts that HAVE been made, and the description of ongoing work and plans with the town, was really all most of us have been asking for. Foxboro just wants to be kept in the loop and know that the fixes ARE being worked on, that plans ARE in place and that National Grid and town leadership are communicating. If I may suggest, an occasional update such as the one she sent would certainly help restore confidence across town that we are “in the loop.”
I appreciated that she took time to personally write and give Foxboro a detailed update. Ms. Reed’s letter made a difference, at least to me. Again, my sincere thanks for the response.