- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2003

The chairman of Potomac Electric Power Co. said nearly all of his utility’s customers should have had their electricity restored by midnight last night — and those who don’t can call him directly at his office.

In an appearance on WTOP Radio yesterday, Pepco CEO and Chairman John Derrick Jr. said nearly all of the 531,000 customers who lost power last week during Hurricane Isabel should get their power returned by that deadline. If they don’t, he said they can call him at 202/872-2795.

“We’re doing the best we can to get our customers on by the end of the day,” Mr. Derrick said yesterday.

At 6 p.m., 2,500 Pepco customers in the District, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were still without power. Baltimore Gas & Electric had about 8,500 customers without power.

Dominion Virginia Power had 4,870 customers in Northern Virginia still in the dark. More than 270,000 customers in other parts of Virginia remained without power. Officials there warned that some residents, particularly in rural areas, might not have power restored for another week.

Yesterday, Mr. Derrick defended the pace of his company’s progress in restoring power to its customers as a “respectable effort.” Pepco officials had initially said they would restore power to all customers by early last night or late Thursday.

However, many Pepco customers who still didn’t have electricity disagreed.

“I can’t believe this,” said Reba Ferris, of Colesville in Montgomery County. “It’s been eight days. It’s not so bad during the day with the sun, but at night it’s not much fun. Now they’re telling us by the end of the weekend.”

Mr. Derrick’s appearance on WTOP followed numerous calls by elected officials in Maryland and the District for investigations into Pepco’s response. Officials in Fairfax County also called for hearings with Dominion Virginia representatives once power is restored to all residents.

Utility experts said the recent push for public inquiries isn’t surprising. “It’s pretty typical that after a hurricane happens above North Carolina, there is a big call for investigations into whether utilities were prepared,” said Robert Burns, a utility expert at the National Regulatory Research Institute at Ohio State University.

“We do know that throughout a lot of areas there have been cutbacks on expenses on customer service,” he said.

Elected officials said while most customers in the Washington area have gotten their electricity back, tens of thousands of customers waited for more than four or five days before crews restored their electricity.

“I think we’ll see hearings and inquiries into this in the D.C. government very soon,” said Tony Bullock, a spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Mr. Bullock said he didn’t get his power restored until Wednesday.

Mr. Bullock said District officials want to find out whether Pepco can make its power lines more resistant to high winds and falling trees. “They need to address their overhead system to make it more resistant,” he said.

Mr. Williams has questioned whether Pepco should bury more of its lines underground. But, Mr. Derrick warned that would cost about $10 billion. Customers would pay for it in their monthly bills.

Pepco officials said they plan to send their crews to Virginia to join Dominion crews once power is restored for all Pepco customers.

Last night, Dominion still had about 289,000 outages primarily in the greater Richmond and Hampton Roads areas. The company had restored power to about 83 percent of its customers who lost electricity during the hurricane and Tuesday’s heavy rains.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials said there are still more than 100 secondary roads closed in southern parts of the state because of flooding and felled trees.

State health officials are concerned that standing water will give fast rise to the mosquito population. Officials may begin aerial spraying of pesticides in hard-hit localities as early as next week to head off a potential rise in infections of the West Nile virus.

Authorities also said yesterday that Isabel may have caused unexploded military ordnance to wash up in communities along the Chesapeake Bay. Officials fear the explosives could wash up with storm debris or turn up in fishing nets.

Maryland Deputy State Fire Marshal Faron Taylor said the explosives have been in the Bay for years, left over from the days when the military used some of the islands for target practice. Authorities urged anyone who finds such devices to call police.

Meanwhile in Fells Point in Baltimore, business owners pleaded for customers to return to their establishments. About 450 apartments, homes and businesses in the neighborhood were affected by Isabel.

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