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Power restored after estimated $2M in total repairs

Posted: November 19, 2011 - 8:58pm  |  Updated: November 19, 2011 - 9:07pm

Power was restored to all Kenai Peninsula residents late Friday evening after several days of scattered outages left thousands of homes without power in the most recent batch of wind-related outages.

Homer Electric Association’s Joe Gallagher said as of 10 p.m. Friday power was restored to those homes after high winds had brought trees crashing down onto power lines starting early Wednesday morning in the area for the second time this month.

In total, more than 13,000 homes in the area were without power at some point, Gallagher said, leaving borough officials to consider officially declaring that outage, as well as one in the southern Kachemak Bay area and one in the central area in early November, a combined disaster.

But, despite working around the clock for the last several weeks, the HEA and contracted crews’ work isn’t quite finished, Gallagher said.

“We are still working today,” Gallagher said Saturday. “We have got crews basically working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. going back through the outage area and looking at some of the temporary repairs we made to get power back on as quickly as possible and do some permanent repairs.”

HEA crews will also work to address trees that pose a threat in regards to future outages — those that were uprooted, or broken and are now leaning waiting for another round of wind to send them on top of power lines, Gallagher said. That tree mitigation work will continue for at least a few more weeks, he said.

Borough mayor Mike Navarre said the borough would “probably” file the paperwork to declare the wind damage a disaster.

He noted, however, they would wait until there was a clearer picture of the cost of the damage.

“We’re going to do an update with the information we have available on Monday and we will be doing a disaster declaration, but we won’t have it available until Monday,” he said.

Including equipment and personnel costs, Gallagher estimates the damage from all November windstorms to top $2 million.

“By the borough declaring a disaster ... that basically opens up the door for the borough and Homer Electric Association to begin seeking disaster aid from the … federal government,” he said. “Without the disaster declaration from the borough, you can’t even start that process.”

Estimated numbers from the November storms show HEA had to replace 30 poles, 50 cross-arm structures, more than 10,000 feet of electrical wire and 20 transformers, according to a news release.

In order to expedite the repair process, HEA hired, at one point, an additional 32 lineman under contracts with Alaska Line Builders, City Electric and Norcon. Including HEA crews, there were 53 linemen working on the restoration effort.

The first windstorm that hit the Peninsula on Nov. 1 left damages at an estimated $560,000. In that round of outages, crews responded to 165 separate outages with about 7,000 homes experiencing outages that ranged in length from a couple of hours to almost three days, according to information from HEA.

That storm left HEA with 12 poles, 20 cross-arm structures and more than 4,400 feet of electrical wire to replace.

After that damage, crews walked into another storm on starting Nov. 12 in the Seldovia area that did quite a bit of damage, Gallagher said, to south Kachemak Bay.

“We had like three back-to-back-to-back events since the first of the month,” Gallagher said. “… It has been one long pull really for the Homer Electric lineman.”

To help reduce the chance of future power outages and protect HEA facilities, crews will fall trees that present a “true and imminent danger” to HEA equipment over the next few weeks in a controlled manner as conditions permit, according to a release.

“The whole thing is still a pretty precarious situation,” Gallagher said, “because of the fact that a lot of trees almost got knocked over, but not quite. They are just sitting there waiting for the slightest amount of wind or whatever and they are going to fall over.”

Gallagher noted HEA would also make a permanent repair to Nikiski High School today, which means the school will be without power temporarily.

Eric Mohrmann, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management Director, said the borough set up an emergency shelter at the Kenai Armory in addition to the warming stations provided at local fire stations in the area. Only one person, however, utilized the shelter and it was closed Thursday.

“I’ve heard from a number of people who have either lived their whole lives here or lived here for quite a period of time and everyone has pretty much said the same thing — they have never seen a wind storm with damage like this,” he said. “Not this severe, ever. It was really significant to say the least and just how widespread it was is astonishing.”

Gallagher agreed.

“As a result of a storm, that is one of the worst that I have seen since I have been here for 10 years and I have talked to a few others here as well and it is definitely, if not the worst, one of the worst that we have seen,” he said.

The true cost of the storm’s damage across the borough, Mohrmann said, is harder to estimate.

“Trying to quantify the damage for individuals who had their homes freeze up as a result of the power outage, I don’t know if we will ever know how much damage it is,” he said. “But it has got to be pretty significant from what I am hearing.”

Mohrmann said he was pleased to see the positive and swift area-wide efforts in the face of disaster.

“I’ve got to hand it to the utility company and all the folks working there and also there are a lot of volunteers ... and people helping out their neighbors that made a tremendous difference,” he said.

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