HEA wants local disaster declared from winter storm

Posted: Tuesday, April 02, 2002

The brutal storm that roared across the Kenai Peninsula Dec. 22 blew down hundreds of trees and destroyed electrical lines, power poles, transformers and conductors, added up to damages in excess of $1.6 million, according to Homer Electric Association estimates.

In a letter to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley in mid-February, HEA General Manager Norm Story asked that the borough formally declare a local disaster.

"A formal declaration will assist Homer Electric's efforts in seeking disaster funding from the state of Alaska and-or the Federal Emergency Management Agency," Story said.

According to Story, the hurricane-force winds and the freezing rain that followed caused damage to the electrical infrastructure throughout HEA's service area. The most severe damage occurred between Ninilchik and Homer.

The freezing rain contributed to additional damage east of Homer, including broken distribution lines and the collapse of a large transmission line structure.

Story called the December storm "an unprecedented event." Responding to the immediate loss of power and subsequent repairs exceeded HEA's internal resources, he said.

"Five electrical contracting firms, an adjoining electric utility and temporary linemen were engaged to restore electrical services to the public."

The emergency response and restoration costs ($1.6 million) far exceeded the $239,801 HEA had budgeted for storm response for 2001, he said. By comparison, the next most costly storm in the last five years was the Presidents Day storm in 1999, which pushed that year's budgeted amount from $123,790 to $361,327.

According to Alaska law, the mayor may declare a disaster emergency. That emergency cannot be continued or renewed without the consent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. The law also requires that a proclamation declaring an emergency must be "filed promptly with the Alaska Division of Emergency Services."

Among other things, a declaration activates all applicable disaster emergency plans and authorizes the "furnishing of aid and assistance under those plans."

Bagley said Saturday he has not yet made a recommendation for the declaration. He said the degree to which the appropriate borough, state and federal laws apply is under review by the borough's Office of Emergency Management and the legal department.

"I don't know what we are going to do yet," he said. "We're looking into it. I just wanted the assembly to be aware of what was happening."

Bagley also said the December storm damage was one of the catalysts for the recent approval of an additional $300,000 in spruce bark beetle mitigation funding for HEA, which will pay for further cutting of dead trees near power lines.

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