JCP&L to add safety manhole covers after Aug. 5 outages in Morristown, Township

"Safety" manhole cover installed in Morristown, March 2013. Photo: JCP&L


Jersey Central Power & Light plans to install vented manhole covers in Morristown in the wake of a recent lunchtime incident, in which firefighters reported a heavy iron cover blew a dozen feet from a manhole at the intersection of Lafayette Avenue and Morris Street.

No injuries were reported from that episode on Aug. 5, 2019. But at least 2,800 customers in Morristown and Morris Township lost power that day.

Three separate and unrelated failures, called “faults” by the utility, were to blame, JCP&L acknowledged on Thursday in briefings of officials from both municipalities.

It may take another month to learn the precise cause of these faults, according to Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, who said the utility told local officials they are awaiting test results on components that malfunctioned.

“There were three unrelated outages on two circuits serving customers in Morristown and Morris Township on Aug 5. We assessed each as part of our investigation, and the enhancements we are implementing will strengthen both,” JCP&L spokesman Cliff Cole said Friday in a statement.

Dougherty said he is “not completely satisfied,” and won’t be until he gets a full accounting of what happened.

Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel also voiced impatience–and questioned the probability of three faults in one day, in one area, being unrelated.

“I don’t believe in coincidences in engineering matters,” said Grayzel, who has a degree in industrial engineering.

“It’s taken them this long to debrief us. I’d like to know about it sooner. They’ve been trying to put the pieces together and give us a more complete story.”

It was not clear on Friday how many safety manhole covers will be added, or where. Jersey Central installed a dozen of them in Morristown in 2013 at the direction of the state Board of Public Utilities. The BPU mandated sweeping infrastructure improvements to address “an alarming litany of failures” by JCP&L that led to a series of manhole fires and explosions, one of which injured a motorist.

Safety covers are designed to vent gases that can cause explosions.

The Aug. 5 faults were not indicative of any systemic issues in the Greater Morristown electrical network, Cole said.

“While the outage involved an underground cable, the impacted equipment is not part of the larger Morristown underground network that has been significantly upgraded in recent years,” said Cole, asserting that “providing safe and reliable electric service to our customers is a top priority for JCP&L.”

Jersey Central “is implementing enhancements designed to help prevent similar issues in the future,” Cole said, without elaborating on those enhancements. The utility also has reviewed its inspection and maintenance practices, above and below ground, as well as its vegetation (tree) management program, the spokesman said.

The power company, a subsidiary of First Energy, will deliver a progress report at the Morristown council’s Sept. 10 meeting, said town Administrator Jillian Barrick. She was briefed Thursday by JCP&L officials at their Morris Township office, along with Grayzel and Township Administrator Tim Quinn.

Earlier this month, Barrick expressed frustration about a dearth of information from JCP&L about the cause of the outage and status of repairs, which were not completed until late on Aug. 5. Some town residents reported they lost power as early as 4 am.

Repair crews were hampered by evening rush hour traffic, which posed hazards for the workers, according to the utility.

Barrick said she was encouraged by Thursday’s JCP&L presentation, to the point where she does not yet feel the need to involve state regulators.

“I do feel they are taking this seriously…and are taking steps to do what is necessary” to ensure public safety and minimize risks of future outages, the administrator told Morristown Green.

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