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Cuomo talks tough on storm, lack of cooperation from utilities

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was supposed to visit one of his daughters Wednesday.

"To get on their schedule is very difficult," he said with a smile during a news conference in Cheektowaga. "I had managed to get on the schedule of one of my daughters today, but ... I called her to say I was going to cancel because I was coming here."

She said to her father, "You really take these storms seriously."

He agreed and said he thought about that on his way from Albany to Western New York.

"We've lost lives in storms like this," Cuomo said at the New York State Thruway Authority facility along the I-90 off Walden Avenue. "So when I say it's nothing to be trifled with ... I want to make sure we are doing everything we can because they are dangerous."

Cuomo cited, as other leaders have, this storm's dangerous combination of snow, high winds and intense cold.

"I know Western New York knows about snow and can handle snow, but this is something different,” Cuomo said, noting that the snow, cold and wind chill make it “more complicated” than storms in the past.

[Complete coverage of the January 2019 blizzard]

Cuomo had strong words about what he called the lack of cooperation from utility companies.

"The utilities have contractual obligations to be able to handle a storm. The PSC (Public Service Commission) regulates them, they get paid for the job they do, the ratepayers across the state pay the utilities a very hefty sum.

"I want the utilities to hear me today: We expect a better level of service than we have been getting from the utility companies in terms of both communication of the problem and resolution of the problem.

"Communication is important. If we know there are people who are without power, that is an emergency and something that we can be helpful with. ... But we have to know about it, and we have to know about it in a timely basis."

Both Cuomo and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz singled out New York State Electric and Gas.

"NYSEG, especially, has to do a better job than they've done in past storms, in terms of communicating the number of outages," Cuomo said. "When they know about an outage, we should know about an outage.

"In terms of response, we expect the same kind of response to the rural parts of WNY as we get in the urban parts," Cuomo added. "All too often you've seen a delayed response in the rural parts. Their money is just as green as anyone else, and they demand and expect service, and we want to make sure they are going to get it."

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"I echo the governor's concerns with regards to utilities," Poloncarz said. "We have a very good relationship with National Grid, but to my friends in NYSEG, we really do need stronger communication with you during outages. We get people that contact us for the most accurate information, and we can't provide it unless we get it back from the utility companies."

But Kevin Ortiz, a NYSEG spokesman, pushed back against the criticism.

“NYSEG begins proactively communicating in advance of storms to provide timely information to our customers and local officials about storm preparations, safety and outage information, and restoration times," he said in an emailed statement. "The Company is in direct contact with local municipalities, issues press releases, and directly emails impacted customers with updates.   NYSEG also encourages customers to sign up for Outage Alerts to receive updates throughout an event automatically by phone, text, or email as the company updates the status of any restoration process in their area. The Company also provides updates through its social media channels on Twitter and Facebook.”

Poloncarz said that with the storm and its high winds moving south later Wednesday, there is a stronger possibility of trees knocking out power lines.

"In these extreme cold temperatures, the last thing we want is people to not have power to their homes, which usually will run their furnaces or their boilers," Poloncarz said. "So it's very important that if power does go out it be restored as quickly as possible, and we need the full participation of our partners in the utilities."

New York State troopers are going to step up their enforcement of the tractor-trailer ban, Cuomo said. Tractor trailers have been banned from the Thruway sections closest to Western New York.

"That is serious. We have seen that when the tractor trailers ban is put in place, we have fewer jackknife trailers. One jackknife trailer can close an entire road, and can take hours to clear.

"We are not kidding about the tractor-trailer ban and the bus ban. The fines are steep and you will be ticketed. The state police will be out in full force."

Westbound trucks are to get off at the I-390 near Rochester and take it north to NY Route 104 to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, or south to I-86 West.

Trucks entering the United States via New York must take the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to Route 104 East.

Trucks coming from the south via I-90 East must detour on to I-86 East.

Cuomo lauded the preparation and cooperation of the state and the local municipalities and praised local emergency workers and plow truck drivers.

"Preparation is everything in a situation like this," said Cuomo. "If you start to get ready once the storm hits, it's too late. That's why we go to great lengths to spend days in preparation for an event such as this one."

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