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Chester County Press

Supervisor slams PECO at township board meeting

08/22/2023 03:50PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw            Kennett Township Supervisor Scudder Stevens delivered a sharp criticism of PECO at the board’s Aug. 16 meeting, excoriating the power supply company for not burying power lines, that caused several throughout the township to be affected by fallen trees during a severe storm on Aug. 7 that led to lengthy power outages.

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

As the Aug. 16 Kennett Township Board of Supervisors meeting was coming to a close, supervisor Scudder Stevens used the public comment portion to deliver a sharp criticism of PECO on the heels of the Aug. 7 severe storm that saw PECO power lines throughout Chester County damaged by fallen trees that left as many as 27,000 county customers without power.

Referencing his handwritten notes on a yellow legal pad, Stevens delivered a ten-minute diatribe against the power company that was preceded by his expression of gratitude to the PECO employees who work to restore power during sever weather incidents – several from states other than Pennsylvania.

Despite the company’s best effort to restore power during severe storms, Stevens said the company is at fault for not developing underground cabling which would have prevented the power outages that occurred throughout the township and the entire county on Aug. 7.

“Early on as a supervisor, I expressed a concern that PECO would continually fail to provide the managerial decision services to our residents – the adequacy and the effectiveness of that service,” Stevens said. “There were many times when we suffered power outages that lasted for five days or longer here in Kennett Township, and those seem to have occurred during the winter so you can imagine with snow on the ground and having no power for more than five days was not an unusual event.”

Stevens said that several years ago, he and supervisor Rich Leff held a meeting with PECO representatives and convinced them to meet with the township’s residents who had expressed concerns about the company’s managerial decisions in the power outages that occurred in the township. Stevens said that he and Leff prevailed upon PECO to expand power lines in the township to facilitate more power throughout Kennett Township and neighboring municipalities.

“But we continue to lose power,” he said, “and particularly with global warming and a transition from the kind of weather we had in the past to the kind of weather we are evolving into, [it led to] the storms a week or so that shut us down and the complications it had on the entire region.

“And so I ask you, PECO management, why is this?’” Stevens said. “I continue to ask this question and they continue to deny the answer, but the answer to me is very clear: The infrastructure and particularly the wires are all above ground and all entangled in the trees.”

Stevens accused the power company of not keeping up with underground power technology and “the better building practices that should apply.”

"PECO spends a fortune trimming trees and re-hanging wires from what I call ‘dead trees’ – telephone poles – and lo and behold, they all come down again,” he said.

Stevens’ remarks were illuminated by a visual accompaniment. In his monthly report to the board, Public Works Director Ted Otteni displayed photographs of power lines downed by fallen trees along several roads in the township during the Aug. 7 storm – Bayard, Creek and Hillendale roads, to name a few -- when his crew worked with local fire companies, police units and PECO representatives to remove debris and restore power.

“There is an old adage that comes to mind for me,” Stevens said. “’Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. PECO’s behavior is an illustration of such insanity in keeping the wires in the trees, so that we have to keep going back and re-installing the wires, and all of that goes along with the disruption to the people who live in that particular area.

“I would really like the management of PECO to stop the insanity and bury the lines, so that we can move on to the 21st century, instead of the 19th century.”

In deference to Stevens’ comments, PECO has made strides to convert to underground sources of energy in southeastern Pennsylvania. It currently supplies 16,900 miles of underground cable to its 1.7 million customers in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia and York counties. Its commitment toward establishing underground electrical networks began as far back as 2003, when it spent $3.8 million to install underground cable and associated circuit switchgear in the Rittenhouse Square, Fitler Square and Old City areas in Philadelphia. In 2012, PECO invested $3.2 million to replace and perform preventative maintenance on about 19 miles of underground cable.

As listed on a PECO fact sheet on its website, the power company is projecting to spend $6 billion in infrastructure improvements over the next five years that will include completing targeted infrastructure enhancements, corrective maintenance and investing in new equipment. The price tag includes PECO’s Reliability & Resiliency Plan, which will spend $1.36 billion on targeted reliability-focused electric system infrastructure through 2025.

Other township business

The Board of Supervisors gave the township’s support to the Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway Commission to submit a multi-municipal grant proposal to Chester County’s Vision Partnership Program.

The Commission, begun in 2005, is made up of representatives appointed by the boards of Chadds Ford, East Bradford, Kennett, Pennsbury and Pocopson townships.

The grant, if awarded, will assist in the Commission’s development of a website to promote the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which was designated by PennDOT last November. The 7.68-mile thorofare begins at the Delaware state line along Route 52 and extends through Kennett, Pennsbury, Pocopson and Birmingham townships.

The Commission is projecting that the cost of website development will be $20,000 and is seeking a grant in the amount of $12,000, with the remaining $8,000 coming from the Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway Commission budget. The application is due by Sept. 7.

John Haedrich, who represents the township on the Commission with Karen Marshall, said the website will tell the story of Tubman’s efforts to help the enslaved seek freedom through the Underground Railroad, which navigated through southeastern Pennsylvania.

The grant will also enable the Commission to develop the website in partnership with several other Underground Railroad advocacy groups and organizations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania to establish an interpretive and connectivity plan.

The Byway will incorporate the stories of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad into the significant historical and cultural intrinsic qualities of the area representing Chester County’s part in the greater story of this phase of the nation’s past. A key feature of the Byway will be Barnard Station, which will serve as an educational and interpretive component of the Underground Railroad Heritage Center.

“What we hope to do with this Vision Partnership grant is to bring those parties together and all work on a consensus story,” Haedrich said, “so that we can embody that on the website and help build a coalition of Underground Railroad interest groups, and do the job right for the community and the travelers who come to the area.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].