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Assembly Panel Ok’s Cryan & Eustace Bill Package to Boost Emergency Preparedness in Aftermath of Sandy

Two-Bill Package Would Improve Communications with Utility Customers, Help Prevent Trees from Downing Wires

An Assembly panel on Monday approved a two-bill package sponsored by Assemblymen Joseph Cryan and Tim Eustace to improve communications with utility customers during the event of an emergency and help prevent downed utility wires during storms – two measures inspired by the fallout from Hurricane Sandy.

The first bill (A-3619), sponsored by Cryan, would require electric, water, and gas public utilities, telecommunications companies, and cable television companies, to annually submit a request in written form to each customer to obtain alternate modes of communication not associated with the customer’s account, at which it may communicate with the customer in the case of a service interruption or emergency.

“Communication is key in any emergency,” said Cryan (D-Union). “This is a common sense plan that we want to make sure every utility provider is following to ensure that they always have a back-up method to reach customers with critical alerts or notifications. For example, if I’m elderly or have health problems and I’m without power during a storm, I want to know that my utility provider has a way of alerting me in the event that the outage will be prolonged and I might need to seek alternate shelter.”

Under the bill, emergencies would be considered any circumstance in which a public utility experiences a service interruption, or is in immediate danger of experiencing a service interruption, caused by a person or natural disaster, which includes, but is not limited to, fire, flood, earthquake, or storm; or the declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor or the President of the United States.

Specifically, the bill requires that each public utility, telecommunications, and cable customer be contacted by the respective service provide via the telephone number and email address associated with the account, and the alternate mode of communication provided by the customer, i.e. an alternate wireless or landline number, email address or other mode of communication provided by the customer.

The second bill (A-3746), sponsored by Cryan and Eustace, would entitle New Jersey property owners to claim a tax credit against the cost of vegetation management in the vicinity of electric utility lines in order to help prevent hazardous interactions between the vegetation and any electric utility lines on the property.

“This will hopefully incentivize residents and business owners to help manage the trees and other shrubbery on their property that could potentially down utility wires during a storm,” added Cryan. “Given how common this occurrence is, we need to find ways to work collaboratively to help prevent this scenario.”

“As we saw during hurricanes Sandy and Irene, trees downing wires are usually the most common cause of power outages, especially prolonged ones,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Utility companies and local authorities have their hands full trying to manage this situation so if we can find a way to make it cost-effective for property owners to pitch in, hopefully we can help prevent more outages.”

To be eligible for the credit, any vegetation management work would have to be completed by a contractor, by a shade tree commission, by a licensed tree expert, or by another party under the supervision of a licensed tree expert.

For tax credit eligibility, these entities would also have to certify that the work completed was the type of preventative work intended to be covered by the bill. Municipal shade tree commissions, due to their ability to charge property owners for tree care regardless of permission, would be not only permitted, but required to provide certification for any such preventative work charged to the property owner.

Both measures were approved by the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee and now await consideration by the full Assembly.