After Hurricane Isabel two years ago, Pepco publicly apologized for its lackluster performance in restoring power and its shortcomings in communication. But recent storm-related power outages are a reminder that the problem of downed power lines and falling trees has not gone away ["Outages Keeping Crews Tied Up; Most Power Restored After Storm, but Rain, Heat May Slow Repairs," Metro, July 25].
After Isabel, the Office of the People's Counsel held hearings to invite recommendations on what Pepco and the city could have done to prevent the hurricane-related outages. The D.C. Department of Transportation acknowledged that effective tree trimming is integral to Pepco's ability to provide reliable service. Pepco also commissioned a report by James Lee Witt, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which tried to connect the dots between power outages, falling trees, downed power lines and the need for improved regional cooperation.
Fast forward to last month, when a weather system that in no way rivaled Isabel plunged Pepco's D.C. metro service territory into darkness once again. When is Pepco going to improve this situation?
In 2003, and again today, the Office of the People's Counsel has recommended a comprehensive plan for "vegetation management" -- i.e., tree trimming. Notwithstanding Pepco's need to clean up its act, the trees are not its sole responsibility. Vegetation management requires regional cooperation. What is needed is an independent referee to oversee a tree-trimming plan's creation and to provide the authority to ensure accountability. Most important, a regional plan would give the community somewhere to turn to determine liability when tree trimming is botched or trees are butchered.
It is also past time for a serious conversation about having underground power lines in certain areas. Yes, this would be expensive, but what is the alternative?
Pepco needs to be held accountable for service and for ensuring that the District's trees are routinely, aesthetically and appropriately trimmed. The rains of July 2005 were a steamy reminder of how much work remains to be done.
ELIZABETH A. NOEL
Office of the People's Counsel