Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

Update for 12/18/2020

Good afternoon, 

I am happy to report that Bridgeport Hospital began vaccinating people for COVID-19 this week. Deliveries are being made and the process will accelerate from here. On the state website, www.ct.gov/coronavirus, you can read about Connecticut’s plans for vaccine distribution. Hospitalization numbers have been fairly steady for the last week.  

There are two main differences from the surge in hospitalizations in the spring. First, there are many more people in the hospital this time of year with problems other than COVID-19, and second, there is no medical staff coming from other parts of the country to help because staff is needed in their local areas.  All the hospitals in the state are challenged to take care of every patient they see.

Another significant increase in COVID-19 positive patients would be very difficult for our hospitals to handle. Until enough people are vaccinated, hopefully, this summer,  it is up to us to control the spread. While there are new cases in Easton every day, the per 100,000 per two-week rate fell for the 2 weeks ending Dec. 12 to 28.5  with 30 new cases in the prior 2 weeks. We need to continue to do all of those things that we talk about every week that help reduce the spread. As much as we all yearn for being with our friends and families over the holidays, please be mindful of the consequences, limit gatherings, wear masks and social distance.

We also had our first major snowfall of the season and despite a hefty amount of snow, we faired well; ninety customers lost power and there was only one major road blockage. Hopefully, these relatively low numbers reflect the work done on tree trimming and removal that I have been talking about the last few weeks. Our Department of Public Works, as always, did a wonderful job of getting the roads cleared, aided by the fact that people stayed home and few cars were on the roadways. During the next few days, the temperatures will be significantly below freezing, so if you have elderly neighbors, please check on them.

Concerning the tree work, I testified this week in front of the Public Utilities Regulatory Agency regarding the UI preparation and response to our last storm. I think the Agency heard those of us who testified and we will await the findings. Again, even before the hearing, we have already succeeded in getting the tree work done.  If we can prevent outages, that is the best of all results.

Congratulations to Wendy Bowditch who was recently appointed to the Board of Finance. Wendy has served Easton in multiple capacities over the years and we welcome her further service.

I think the snow makes Easton even more beautiful than normal. For many, this is their first holiday time and snowfall in town. Welcome! From all of us in Town Hall, I want to wish you a joyous and peaceful Holiday Season.

Dave Bindelglass

Photo at top: Snow covered Easton Town Hall during the Dec. 16 to 17 nor’easter. — Chief Rich Doyle Photo

Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

Update for 11/20/2020

Good afternoon,

We have had 12 crews working on tree pruning and removal in Easton. They are working along a 47-mile circuit of wires which was work initially planned two to three years ago. This should greatly improve our storm resilience. We are waiting for a status report on the work being done.

As background, the state established an act concerning Enhanced Tree Trimming in 2013. The process is that a work planner from UI  inspects trees and determines which trees need further evaluation. Those trees are marked for remedial pruning or removal. That is only the beginning of the process. From there, the property owner is consulted and then the tree is reviewed by the UI Arborist and the Easton Tree Warden as well as the Tree Service  Foreman.

The Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) empowers this group to make decisions on individual trees. This is the process for selecting trees to be pruned or removed. In addition, the town has pre-filed it’s testimony in the ongoing investigation by PURA into the UI response to this summer’s storm. I am pleased that after all these years we have begun to get this work done!

In Town Hall, we are working on making recordings of town boards, commissions and committee meetings available for viewing on our Town of Easton website. In most cases, boards, commissions and committee recordings exist, and we are working to make them available. Our Town Clerk and Area 9 Cable Council have been working together diligently to create a place, AGENDAS, MINUTES AND RECORDINGS, to house these recordings and make them viewable.

As many of our commission chairs are new to Zoom, there may be some meetings where the recordings were lost due to cloud space issues or never recorded. We are striving to keep up with the demands of the Governor’s Executive Orders. Unlike larger towns, we have neither a communication nor an in-house IT staff.

We remain committed to providing full transparency to the workings of your town government. Please look for updates and specific information from our Town Clerk, Christine Halloran, with procedures for following the Executive Order requirements as well as important information for board, commission and committee members to be aware of in their service to the town. We thank you for your support and dedication to the Town of Easton!

The South Park Advisory Committee is starting to hear proposals for potential uses of the South Park property. The minutes of their last meeting are now posted and can be found under the Board of Selectmen Minutes heading.

Two worthwhile places to donate in the holiday spirit are:

1. The Easton Garden Club Wreath Sale, proceeds going to the donation of wreaths on town buildings and gifts of poinsettias to homebound Easton Seniors. Donations can be made at  https://www.eastongardenclubofct.org/wreath-and-poinsettia-sale.

2. The Easton Police Department’s fund raiser, No Shave November, benefiting the Connecticut Cancer Foundation to support Connecticut cancer patients and their caregivers at https://secure.e2rm.com/p2p/donate/312225/team/928486.

Yesterday, I was honored to participate in the 100th birthday celebration for Peter Bellew. What a great milestone! Happy birthday Peter. 

Val Buckley and our Senior Center delivered 100 turkeys and dinners to people in need in the Lordship area of Stratford. Great job guys!

A quick update about Covid. Unfortunately, the situation continues to worsen. We now have a running two-week average of  24.7 cases per 100,000 people with 26 new cases in the last two weeks. Remember,  we had approximately 30 cases in the first several months of the pandemic. The rise in cases and in subsequent quarantines has led us to join many of the districts in our area in moving our schools to 100% remote learning. It is also straining some of our town services. 

In my family, Thanksgiving is probably the most celebrated holiday of the year and our biggest family get together. I understand how hard it is not to get together in larger groups. I also know how much college students want to use this time to see their friends and out of town family, to visit and share a meal. This is just unsafe in 2020.

It is my greatest hope that this spring or summer will bring some normalcy to our lives with the promise of a vaccine or vaccines on the horizon, but we need to take extra precautions. Wear your mask, sanitize or wash your hands often and social distance. Please be careful and be safe.

Happy Thanksgiving, Easton!                    

Dave Bindelglass

PURA Public Comment Hearing on Response to Tropical Storm Isaias

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) will hold a public comment hearing on Oct. 23 at 9 a.m. to provide the public with the opportunity to comment on Eversource and United Illuminating’s responses to Tropical Storm Isaias: Docket Number 20-08-03, Investigation into Electric Distribution Companies’ Preparation For and Response To Tropical Storm Isaias

Listen and/or Testify

People can register through the web link below to listen or to participate in the meeting.

Friday, Oct. 23, at 9 a.m.:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

  • Submit Written Testimony

The authority will accept written comments until the close of the hearing.  Those interested in providing comments in writing can email testimony to pura.information@ct.gov.  Please be sure to put Docket Number 20-08-03 in the subject line and send a copy to paul.formica@cga.ct.gov.

General Assembly Easily Passes New Utility Measure in Response to Rates and Outages

Easton’s Legislators Agree With Some Reservations

First, it was the Connecticut House of Representatives voting in special session on Wednesday for utility-regulation reform by a vote of 136-4 with 11 not voting. The Senate followed on Thursday with the unanimous support of those voting, 35-0.

For state Rep. Anne Hughes (D-Easton, Redding, Weston), the vote was a first step toward making power companies beholden to ratepayers, not shareholders. For Sen. Tony Hwang (R-Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Westport) also, the vote was a good start on one needed reform but left others unaddressed. 

“The ‘Take Back Our Grid’ bill is not as comprehensive as we first envisioned but is a critical first step that we can take right now in this emergency special session,” Hughes said in a press release. “It was important for us to act now, in response to public demand that we hold our power monopolies more accountable to the ratepayers and increase the oversight framework that has restricted our ability to prohibit utility rate hikes and handle storm response so poorly in the midst of this global pandemic.”

“The bills handled at today’s session, while important in their own right, lacked any mention of the looming budget deficit, business closures, nursing home management, or any other true emergencies that our state faces during the Covid-19 pandemic,” Hwang said in a press release. “That said, I voted today in support of HB 7006 because it sets up the framework to start enacting some real reform when it comes to Connecticut’s public utilities and its disastrous treatment of its customers. It is a start to address the trauma and frustration experiences by consumers this summer as they received dramatically increased billing rates or sat in the dark, some for over a week.”

Among the measures adopted in the utility-regulation reform measure are mandates that will require power companies to set higher standards to meet in their storm responses and be subject to new civil penalties for failure to meet these standards.

A deadline of Jan. 1 has been set under the new legislation for the power companies, Eversource and United Illuminating, to report their storm-preparation plans to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). 

In the event that power-company preparations and responses fail to prevent extended outages, the legislation requires them to pay $25 for each day that a power outage lasts more than 96 consecutive hours, as well as to provide consumers up to $250 for food and medicine losses under the same conditions. 

A Message from First Selectman Bindelglass

The following update from First Selectman David Bindelglass was posted to the town’s website this afternoon:

Good afternoon,

It looks like yesterday’s storm pretty much missed us!  That is good as we continue to work on improvements we can make regarding our handling of the prior storm. Remarkably, we have continued to struggle with repairs by Optimum/Altice, thanks to my Administrative Assistant, Janet Haller who has harassed them every day for the last three weeks! The progress has been extremely slow with multiple starts and stops. I am sorry for those inconvenienced especially in this era of work from home virtually. We are evaluating our options for going forward including looking at new carriers. Oversight at the state level is hard to untangle but we will find a solution.

Our work with the Public Utilities Regulatory Agency looking at UI’s response continues. UI has agreed to aggressively start pruning and removing trees in the near future. We will do everything we can to make sure that happens as the best way to deal with these storms in the future is to minimize their affect.

Also, of concern is a newly announced plan by Aquarion to ship water from our reservoirs to the southern parts of Fairfield County. We are looking into the implications of this including financial ramifications.

On a happier note for our seniors, the state has issued guidelines for the opening of senior centers and we will begin to offer services for our seniors at the center in September. Our seniors have seen their lives most disrupted by the pandemic and we are thrilled to offer them some normalcy again. I want to offer the entire town’s thanks to Val Buckley and the Senior Center staff and to Alison Witherbee who, for months, have worked tirelessly to keep our seniors engaged, connected and safe. We will begin cautiously and increase services over time.

Many of you hopefully saw my earlier post this week about the spike in COVID-19 cases in Danbury. Again, if you travel in the next few weeks, the best of course is to avoid states on the affected list.  If travel cannot be avoided, please adhere strictly to the self-quarantine directive upon your return. The success of future plans to return to more normalcies such as the opening of senior centers and schools, as well as opening or increasing the capacities of other businesses, will depend on how well we continue to adhere to mask and social distancing compliance. Many scientists have predicted a second wave this fall, and if our behaviors can help stave this off, we all benefit. No one wants to go backwards.

Have a great, and a safe weekend.

Dave Bindelglass

Shaban’s Call for Leadership Is a Little Late

(Response to Op-Ed by John Shaban, Aug. 13, 2020, Leadership in a Storm.)

I was glad to see John Shaban, our former state representative for District 135 (Easton, Redding, Weston) express his concern about leadership and accountability in the wake of our recent power outages, now that he is a private citizen. The only problem is that he’s complaining about an epic failure by our power companies in a weak system he helped create.

If only Shaban had cared so much about accountability and consumer protection during his tenure in office when he could have fought for legislation to strengthen PURA, our public utilities regulatory authority. But he did not.

He could have introduced cutting-edge legislation to help protect Connecticut utility customers from the Isaias blackout and from surprise rate hikes like we saw last month. But he did not.

At the very least, he should have fought hard for 2012 proposed legislation following the epic devastation of Hurricane Irene, that would have protected utility customers, and held the utility monopolies accountable. But he did not, hoping no one would hold him accountable.

In fact, the only record Shaban has from his time in office is of protecting power companies like UI and Eversource from more stringent state regulation. This is why they failed us so miserably last week.

The 2012 measure Shaban elected not to fight for would have limited the amount of executive compensation that could be funded by ratepayer dollars. According to published reports, Eversource’s five highest-paid employees earned a combined total of just over $40 million in 2019. Eversource CEO Jim Judge earned more than $19.8 million last year. Additionally, under the 2012 bill, many customers would have been reimbursed for spoiled food and prescriptions due to an extended power outage and would also have also been eligible for rate-relief due to a long blackout.

Connecticut deserves accountable, competent, public utilities they can trust to deliver power to the public. I plan to co-sponsor legislation even broader than the failed 2012 bill, a Utility Bill of Rights for Consumers to hold public utilities including Eversource and United Illuminating accountable for developing a more secure energy distribution grid, better communications plans, outage-related refunds, limited executive compensation, and burying power lines of communities most impacted: The Take Back Our Grid Act.

As we head into what is forecast to be the most active hurricane season ever, ratepayers are demanding we step up now and build a more accountable, resilient power grid. And as we head into election season, I would hope for an honest debate on the issues that matter most to Connecticut. In this regard, Shaban’s disingenuous letter about the storm is as concerning as the hurricane forecast. It’s Hurricane and Accountability Season. It’s too late to promise ratepayers what you plan to do, when you already had the chance to act. That is why I am determined to act now in the upcoming September Special Session of the General Assembly with the ‘Take Back Our Grid Act’ and do my job.  Shaban had his chance. Hindsight is 2020.

Easton Tree Work Increases Due To Ash Tree Decline

Everyone is aware of the ongoing tree work along roadways and power lines here in Easton.  With increasingly powerful storms that cause branches to break and trees to take down power lines, state and local officials have stepped up the complicated and expensive process to manage the power disruption and danger that falling tree parts present.  

In addition to more storms, trees are facing drought, disease and insects, making them sicker and more likely to deteriorate or die. Every town in the state is facing an unprecedented crisis in dealing with tree deterioration, especially along thoroughfares, where falling trees can spell disaster.  

That’s why across the state, towns are scrambling to find the funding and other resources needed to deal with large numbers of trees that need to be removed.  

The problem managing trees along power lines and roadways has only sharpened since the arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer, a non-native insect which began attacking all species of ash trees in Michigan in 2002, with infestation reaching Western Connecticut around 2012.  

According to Claire Rutledge, an entomologist working with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, we can expect to lose all ash trees in the next 10 to 12 years.  Richard Dina, Easton’s tree warden, has noted in a recent letter to United Illuminating, the “… potential/imminent danger to persons and property from declining and dead ash trees …” 

Diseased or dead trees will fall on their own if they are not removed, endangering not only power lines, but people.  

Dina thinks it urgent that we speed up tree removal and not stand by until July or later when UI work is scheduled to begin removing all ash trees within their purview (eight to 10 feet from power lines, the Utility Protection Zone.)  

He said that Easton may be able to help the UI effort by providing traffic control and wood removal after the trees are downed.  If the town can provide such assistance, Dina believes UI could start ash tree removal this winter.  

Connecticut towns have to cover the costs of removing ash trees.  Easton presently budgets about $150,000 annually for tree work, not enough to cover the growing costs of the ash tree crisis.  

Dina is sounding the alarm, pressuring UI’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA), as well as state legislators to get involved at the state level, helping to find the crews and trucks needed to address the serious problems created by the sudden decline and death of Connecticut’s ash trees in the Utility Protection Zone.     

Dick Dina, Easton tree warden, oversees the felling of an ash tree on Mile Common Road. — Cleo Sonneborn Photo
Crews meet the challenging task of felling trees that threaten power lines in Easton.– Cleo Sonneborn Photo
Diseased ash trees felled in the Utility Protection Zone (UPZ) –Cleo Sonneborn Photo