AUGUSTA — Five months after a powerful storm knocked out electricity to thousands of Maine residents, Larry Nadeau is still fired up.

He had no power, like most of his neighbors. But Nadeau, who is Litchfield’s road commissioner, had a bigger worry — clearing the roads.

Across Kennebec County and elsewhere in Maine, trees both large and small had been blown over during the Oct. 30 storm and were either hung up on power lines or were lying on top of downed lines.

Nadeau and about a dozen officials from Kennebec County towns recently took their concerns to a meeting with Central Maine Power Co. officials organized by the county’s Emergency Management Agency to talk about their competing priorities during a massive recovery effort.

CMP line crews were focused on restoring electricity, and municipal officials wanted to be able to open roads for emergency vehicles and commerce.

At the peak of the outage, about 470,000 CMP customers were without power, and in some cases the outages lasted 10 days.

CMP officials have said the storm cost the utility company about $69 million. More than half of that is likely to be recouped from customers, and a portion could come from company reserves.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has opened an inquiry into the responses of both CMP and Emera Energy in restoring power, and it is ongoing.

In Kennebec County, what both power company and town officials said they wanted from that meeting, held Tuesday, is better communication.

CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said CMP works closely with Maine Emergency Management Agency and county EMAs during recovery from major storms.

“Town officials are directed to contact their county EMA with specific requests (such as to clear downed power lines blocking road access),” Rice said via email.

The EMAs set priorities for those requests and forward them to key personnel at CMP.

“This process is highly effective when followed. Over the last several months, CMP has met with numerous towns and EMAs to review these effective procedures and discuss how to optimize compliance and outcomes,” she said.

The coordination was established in 2014, she said, when the Maine Legislature adopted a statewide first responders mutual aid agreement.

In Kennebec County, that can be complicated.

Sean Goodwin, Emergency Management director for Kennebec County, said the communications structure in the county presents some challenges because of the number of different dispatch points.

“A lot of information can get lost in passing it off,” Goodwin said. “The southern part of the county is dispatched out of Lincoln County, and the northern part is going to Somerset County. Then there’s Winthop communications and Waterville communications.”

In times of high call volumes, he said, the system that’s in place doesn’t always get used.

Greg Thompson, manager of regional operations for CMP, brought a presentation to a meeting last Tuesday to show how the storm forecasts developed, and he detailed how the company geared up for possible outages, including bringing in line crews from states as far away as Florida and across the border from Canada.

He also reviewed the company’s priorities in restoring power. At the top of list was addressing emergency situations and bringing power back to hospitals and other critical facilities.

As crews were working on those, he said, he was hearing from public works officials, legislators and the Maine State Police about which roads needed to be cleared first.

“What I need is for everyone to be going through the EMA,” he said.

At the same time, Nadeau and other municipal officials said at that meeting they were frustrated because they couldn’t find out whether downed power lines were still energized, and line crews would not ground lines — shut off the power — so they could remove trees to open roads for people to get fuel to continue to run their generators or get to warming centers.

“Every town can move a tree,” Fayette Town Manager Mark Robinson said at the meeting. “We just need to hear from you guys if it’s safe to do that. And if we don’t have that, the town, the municipality is taking on the liability if someone backfeeds a line with their generator and bad things happen. This is why you folks have told us ‘you can’t touch this till we give the OK.’ We didn’t care about restoration. We needed to get people out of their houses so they could get the resources they need.”

Robinson said Friday that about 35 residents on Lovejoy Shores Drive were stranded for days by an enormous toppled pine tree that blocked their way out.

“People came in the dark of night to remove it,” he said. “It’s nothing I condoned or authorized. That’s how it got done, and it’s not right.”

Robinson noted CMP’s top priority in Thompson’s presentation, which was making conditions safe.

“It’s not a safe scenario to have people stranded for a day or 10 days without access to the resources they need to endure the outage,” he said.

Robinson, who lives in that area of Fayette, also said the company’s outage reporting system failed during the storm. He said he logged the outage at his house through the automated system and discovered days later there was no record of that outage report because he hadn’t spoken with a person, and the company’s information showed only three outages on that road, not the 35 customers that had no power.

“The presentation we heard was very good,” Robinson said of the meeting, but he added that he wants to hear from the company that these problems will be solved.

At the meeting, Nadeau said if CMP had said a line was completely down, they could have opened the road.

“We had zero interest in restoring power,” he said. “We wanted to open the roads.”

To address these concerns, Thompson said he would put together a plan to dispatch crews to deal with grounding lines so trees can be removed safely, separate from the restoration work that would be ongoing.

Goodwin said once he gets the plan, he’ll send it out to town officials for review and feedback.

“I can see both sides of the story meeting in the middle,” Goodwin said. “I would like to see them develop a line I can call to clear the roads. It would be very nice for them to do, and it would be beneficial to the municipalities.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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