PAWTUCKET — The owner of a local rug manufacturer said he has grown frustrated with National Grid's slow response to a loss of electrical power at his company — and it occurred long before Tropical Storm Irene.
On June 6 at around 11:30 a.m., a transformer located outside a mill complex at 560 Mineral Spring Ave. exploded while in the midst of being repaired by National Grid workers. The blaze that erupted caused damage to a stair tower, windows and a portion of the roof of the 325,000-square foot historic mill complex and disrupted power to 125 tenants.
Donald Scarlata, president and CEO of Colonial Mills, Inc., said it has been over 90 days now and he has yet to have his power restored by National Grid. Since the fire, he has been renting a private generator, at his own cost, to keep his company operating. He said he has tried numerous times to reach someone from National Grid about the electrical issue as well as the claims for $250,000 in smoke and water damages that he said he incurred.
“They've been unresponsive. No matter how many times I've talked to the claims department, I'm just told 'We're working on it,'” Scarlata said.
“National Grid has not paid for any of the claims, nor have they done anything to connect the power,” Scarlata stated. Further, he said the electrical readings from his rented generator are going though the rug company's meter, and he has been getting calls from National Grid's collections department threatening to shut off CMI's power if he didn't pay his electric bills. “I actually had to pay a deposit on my bill. This is absurd,” he fumed.
Scarlata, whose company has been in business for 34 years, rents about 70,000-square feet in the mill complex for offices, a factory and a retail store. He noted that his business had survived the economic downturn and was held up as a successful model about two years ago by U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who helped CMI obtain some economic development loans.
“We're doing well, knock on wood, but this has been going on for far too long,” said Scarlata. “No one from National Grid has ever even come here after the fire to see how we are doing. I initiated the contact,” he said.
The business owner said that on the morning of the fire, he was sitting in his office with an associate when the transformer, located right outside his window, exploded in a shower of sparks. “My window was a wall of flames. It was scary,” he said.
Scarlata said National Grid has told him that they want to reconfigure and upgrade the whole connection related to the transformer. He said he contacted both the city Building Official and Fire Marshal and was told that there was no violation because the generator is providing the electricity as it should be. He said he has been further annoyed because in his last few inquiries to National Grid, the company has blamed Tropical Storm Irene for the delays. “My problem happened long before Irene,” he noted.
David Graves, a spokesman for National Grid, said that the utility company has been in contact with the owner of the entire mill complex, Jonathan Savage, and has been working on plans to design a new electrical pad and main transformer. He said the intent is to design a “proper new connection between our supply and the demands of the mill.”
Graves said that since the June 6 fire, generators have been supplying power to all of the tenants in the building and National Grid has agreed to cover these costs. “This is the only issue that has been raised,” he said, of Scarlata's complaint. He added that the upgrade of the transformer and pad requires engineering and schematics which will take time.
Savage, an attorney who owns the complex known as Lorraine Mill at 560, agreed that there have been a number of meetings with National Grid about installing the new transformer and upgraded electrical system.
“It's a complicated process because it requires engineering plans to re-design a portion of the electrical service,” he said.
He added that these plans have been developed, but the process is ongoing.
Savage said that while he can appreciate Scarlata's frustration, he knows National Grid has been focusing all of its recent attention on the clean-up from Tropical Storm Irene.
Scarlata, however, said he feels like “it's the little guy against the big guy” in his dispute with the utility company.