Storm’s blow not as bad as expected, town well prepared; NStar falters at storm’s height

Hurricane Sandy hit Duxbury Monday, cancelling schools, knocking out power and causing a thirteen and a half foot storm surge that swept over local shore roads, however, public officials agree, the town was spared any major damage.

The height of the hurricane hit in the early afternoon Monday, after the noon high tide. Wind gusts reached 65 miles per hour, according to Harbormaster Don Beers, and 40 percent of Duxbury homes – as many as 2,900 - lost power for most of Monday afternoon into the night.

Most regained electricity early Tuesday morning but there were still areas, such as parts of Depot Street, Tremont Street and Powder Point, that remained without power into Tuesday afternoon.

Schools were closed both Monday and Tuesday. The high school regained power Tuesday morning, but the middle school remained without electricity into Tuesday afternoon.

Duxbury Town Hall closed early Monday and remained closed Tuesday because of a power outage along Tremont Street. The Department of Public Works facility, also on Tremont Street, lost power both days due to a tree that came down on wires right at the entrance. The DPW had to rely on its back-up generators.

The only traffic signal in town at Tremont Street and St. George Street remained dark for most of the day Monday, causing a hazardous intersection.

Despite these problems, Duxbury was prepared for Hurricane Sandy, said town officials, and it escaped with minimal beach damage, no accidents and a somewhat better response from utility company NStar than it received during last year’s tropical storm Irene.

“All in all, I think we were pretty lucky,” said Beers.

The harbormaster’s department prepared for six days before the storm, ordering all residents to remove their boats and making sure the oyster farmers moved their floats into Bluefish River. When the storm hit, the harbormaster closed Duxbury Beach and all the town landings.

Damage to the beach was minimal, said Beers.

“The beach is in great shape,” he said. “She was in great shape going into the storm and she is in great shape coming out of it. I’m sure we had a few wash-overs but there is no indication of a breach.”

Conservation Administrator Joe Grady said there was a “small amount” of erosion south of High Pines and the snow fence was damaged in two areas but the beach held up well.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said Grady. “It was a really close call.”

Helping to minimize the damage to Duxbury Beach was the fact that the storm hit hardest after the tide started dropping. Beers said the storm water added three and a half feet to the ten-foot full-moon high tide.

Although Hurricane Sandy was a huge storm – “one of the largest I’ve ever encountered,” said Beers – its northeast winds were not as menacing to the beach as Irene’s south winds were last year.

Beers opened the beach on Tuesday. Grady expects storm debris to begin washing up on the beach in the next few days.

During Hurricane Sandy, Beers said his department was busy keeping on-lookers away from the water and board surfers and kite surfers out of the water.

“It was amazing. At high tide, we had thousands of people flocking to the waterfront,” said Beers, adding that his officers forbid board surfers from entering the bay because they had pulled the harbormaster’s boats out of the water and there was no way to rescue anyone in an emergency.

Department of Public Works director Peter Buttkus also called the town “lucky,” when it came to weathering the hurricane.

“It was a long duration, but we fared pretty well, considering what we were expecting,” said Buttkus.

He expected the road flooding in the Powder Point and Gurnet Road areas to be much worse, especially during the midnight high tide, but he said “we dodged the bullet.”

Away from the ocean, Hurricane Sandy battered Duxbury to a lesser extent.

“The tree damage isn’t too bad. It’s spread out all over town,” said Buttkus, adding that the transfer station will be accepting logs as well as branches until Sunday.

Buttkus said there were some sporadic power outages at the sewer treatment plants and that his department had to back up the waste water treatment plant, but that portable generators filled these gaps. Also, he said the town’s wells were fine.

The DPW learned lessons from Irene and it prepared days in advance.

“We spent a good couple of days gearing up,” Buttkus said. “All of the equipment had preventative maintenance, the bucket truck was inspected, extra fuel was brought into the fuel depot and all of the hand tools and chainsaws were inspected and sharpened and ready to go.”

Town Manager Richard MacDonald praised the town officials for their readiness.

“The town and its departments were prepared and the outcome showed that preparation,” he said.

Chief Kevin Nord opened the town’s emergency operations center at 5 a.m. Monday and didn’t deactivate it until 8 am Tuesday. He also opened the senior center as a shelter, informing residents of this option with a town-wide phone call at 8 a.m. Monday morning.

Nord said that his department responded to 50 calls for assistance but none were serious and no one used the senior center for shelter.

The electric company NStar, too, came into the storm seemingly prepared, but the utility faltered during the height of the storm when the town needed it the most.

“NStar had great representation at the beginning of the storm but it seemed to decrease as the storm went on,” said MacDonald.

He said he thought NStar’s effort was better than the one it showed during tropical storm Irene, which made him so frustrated that he and the board of selectmen demanded NStar representatives meet with them publicly. However, MacDonald said there was room for improvement.

Buttkus agreed; “They started out good but then they kind of faded.”

He said that during storms, NStar needs to have a supervisor in town who can coordinate the utility company’s efforts with the town’s. Buttkus said he cannot spare workers to “babysit” downed power lines on roads when he needs them to help clear blocked roads where there are no wires.

“They still don’t seem to get the picture we are trying to paint for them,” he said. “We need a supervisor in town because when we work together, we get much more done. I’m a little frustrated by that.”

Nord echoed Buttkus’s sentiments. He said his staff took calls from the public and were “constantly calling” NStar about new power outages.

Calling NStar’s response better than last year, Nord still graded the utility harshly.

“Last year, I gave them a grade of F,” he said. “In this storm, it started off with a good B, but it dropped to a C- later in the day. They were overwhelmed by 3 p.m.”

Public safety and other town officials will report on their storm efforts to the board of selectmen at their meeting next Monday.