No doubt recognizing the power of thousands of angry, sweaty residents struck with freezers full of prematurely defrosted food, City Councilor Bud Williams has stepped forward with a call for City Hall to file a class-action lawsuit against WMECO, after a power failure last week that left, at its peak, 12,000 Springfield customers without electricity, in some case for a day and a half.
The outage was caused when Mass Highway workers laying a fiber optic cable hit an underground power line on East Columbus Avenue. That knocked out power to thousands of customers in several neighborhoods, including the South End, Forest Park, Old Hill and the North End. Last spring, workers on the same project punctured a water main that flooded the area around Main and Carew streets, leaving the area a soggy, impassable mess for weeks.
Mayor Domenic Sarno cut short a family vacation to come back to the city to deal with the fiasco. The mayor, who said he was "outraged" by the accident, has called for a state investigation into how these screw-ups took place.
Meanwhile, Williams – who, should anyone need reminding, is also running for mayor this fall – is ready to one-up the mayor, calling for the city to sue WMECO on behalf of affected residents and businesses. "[A] class action lawsuit will bring some economic justice to our citizens and put WMECO and other utility companies on notice that gross incompetence will have financial consequences," Williams wrote in a statement issued yesterday. And, of course, Williams is also critical of his rival, Sarno, whose response to the outage, he said, does "not go far enough."
Arise for Social Justice co-founder Michaelann Bewsee (who was among the many in the city to lose her power) writes on her blog, MichaelannLand, that while WMECO didn't cause the outage, it did do its customers a disservice by failing to give accurate estimates of how long they'd be without electricity. And, she adds, in a city were the median family income is less than $37,000, and 25 percent of residents live below the poverty level, for many residents, the power outage wasn't just a mere inconvenience. Losing a refrigerator's worth of groceries can be devastating to a family with no money to replace what they've lost, Bewsee writes; those people could be in even worse shape if they work for a restaurant or other business that lost revenue because of the outage.
"This is what so many people don't understand about people who are living in poverty," Bewsee writes. "The poor have absolutely no safety margin when faced with an unexpected financial calamity."