Last year, words such as "flunked" were being used to describe Jersey Central Power and Light's preparedness for Hurricane Irene.
Now, after dealing with several summer storms that have knocked out power to thousands this summer, Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari is among the first to praise JCP&L.
"JCP&L has been very supportive," Vicari said last week at the county Board of Freeholders' meeting. "The relationship is much better now."
About 87,000 Ocean County residents were without power when Irene hit, some of them for as long as a week, suffering the loss of perishable food.
Vicari was one of the most vocal critics of JCP&L last summer in the aftermath of the storm, repeatedly calling for the Board of Public Utilities to put a representative from Ocean County on the board so the county could have an avenue to hold the utility accountable.
Vicari challenged the utility to have a representative attend a meeting of the county government to discuss the response to the storm. He continued to insist that a regional representative hung up on a conference call from him and county Administrator Carl W. Block seeking information about power outages.
At the time, JCP&L spokesman Ron Romano denied anyone from the company hung up on Vicari, but Vicari repeated the charge in a letter to the utility’s president and CEO, Anthony J. Alexander.
Vicari continued his calls and demands through the next several months until finally, in July, JCP&L representatives met with him and Freeholder Director Gerry Little in Toms River right before the Fourth of July weekend.
Since then, Vicari said, things have improved. He praised JCP&L's response in the wake a batch of severe thunderstorms in July that knocked out power to more than 40,000 homes in Ocean County alone.
Vicari received hourly updates from the company on outages, progress in restoring them, and related issues, he said.
"JCP&L did keep their word," he said. "Under the conditions they did a good job."
It was not the first time Vicari has tangled with the utility company brass. A July 2003 power outage that hit shore businesses on the Barnegat peninsula earned his ire and promises from the utility to make improvements to see that episode were not repeated.
Vicari, however, said management’s “response to concerns and complaints raised by residents and businesses fell terribly short,’’ during and after Hurricane Irene.
Vicari said the utility’s workers did their best to respond, but some of them complained to him of a lack of manpower, supplies and equipment.
Irene, the storm that triggered the whirlwind, did at least $4.5 million in damage, Vicari said. County roads suffered at least $1 million in damage, not including the cost of replacing the Bowman Bridge in Jackson with a Bailey Bridge until a permanent replacement can be made.