That Oct. 25-26 nor’easter sure did pack a wallop. Trees were uprooted, massive limbs detached, and some up-Island roads looked more like a slalom course than a roadway — a very dangerous, wire-laden slalom course. As a result, there were massive power outages all across the Island, which lasted for as many as five days for some individuals.
So what did we learn from all of this, and how do we move forward?
Let’s hope that emergency managers on the Island are holding a debriefing to determine what went right and what needs fixing. We have some ideas.
In August, we were impressed by the planning ahead of Tropical Storm Henri. Of course, that storm fizzled before it got here, and was thankfully a non-factor, but it was reassuring to see a parking lot filled with utility trucks ahead of the storm — ready in case we needed them.
We feel like there was plenty of warning about the recent nor’easter, too, and the predictions by the National Weather Service days ahead of the storm were pretty spot-on. Have we all become too complacent about the punch that a nor’easter can pack? We shouldn’t.
The National Weather Service predicted powerful winds with gusts to hurricane force. They also predicted that the soaking rain and leaf cover still on trees would contribute to damage. They were right.
It seemed like the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Eversource, the state’s largest electricity provider, were caught by surprise. We didn’t see many utility trucks coming to the Island ahead of the storm. And once the storm hit and ferries were shut down, there was no way to get them over here for a full day and a half. That meant lots of people being without power for extended periods of time.
Food lost, work hours missed, and schools forced to close for two days. Never mind enough frustration to fill the Island Home’s freight deck.
This isn’t about the highway departments that cleared the roads, and the actual line crews who restored power — some of them coming from as far away as Georgia and Canada. From what we heard and witnessed, they did yeomen’s work.
No, this is about the people in a position to plan ahead.
This storm also has us thinking about the Island’s infrastructure as we work toward the goals set all across the Vineyard during town meetings. Those goals include reducing fossil fuel use on the Island to 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040, as well as increasing the use of renewable energy sources to 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040.
Meanwhile, we have a project going on right now on Beach Road that does little to meet those goals. The project features newly installed utility poles for aboveground wires. By the way, some of those poles were already tilting after the strong winds from that nor’easter. There is zero effort to repair the drainage issues that plague Beach Road and Five Corners, illustrated by Sunday morning’s massive flooding by a relatively minor storm compared with the one we had a few days earlier.
“The flooding that occurred at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven was a result of heavy rains in conjunction with a high tide and debris from the nor’easter which occurred last week that blocked outlets and clogged catch basin grates. The district worked with the town and cleared the debris and removed any blockages, [which] allowed the flooding to subside when the tide receded,” Judith Reardon Riley, a spokeswoman for MassDOT, wrote in an email to The Times. “Drainage reconstruction is not part of the Beach Road reconstruction project. However, any existing drainage structures within the project limits that were damaged were reconstructed, and the system overall was cleaned out.”
Members of the select board should be screaming from the rooftops, which is where they’ll need to be if the issue with drainage on Beach Road and around Five Corners isn’t fixed.
But the board and town leadership are partly to blame. They fought attempts to move sewer lines and other underground utilities, because it would be too costly.
So here we are. Is it too soon to call the Beach Road project a complete failure? Probably. But is it on that path? Absolutely.
This is the main access route for ambulances to our hospital, and for Islanders to get to and from the Steamship Authority ferries. Yet we don’t treat it with that kind of importance.
The groundwork has been laid for underground wiring, but it won’t be installed because town voters rejected the funding twice. So we’re headed toward 2040 with the goal of being all-electric (something we support) with a wiring infrastructure that cripples the Island when winds reach hurricane force.
The town owes us a plan and a resolution for how this will be fixed.