Storm strikes power, patience

• Seldovia went four days without electricity
By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

HOMER TRIBUNE/File Photo - Electricity outages are a facet of life in the Kachemak Bay. Keep emergency kits on had to be prepared.

HOMER TRIBUNE/File Photo - Electricity outages are a facet of life in the Kachemak Bay. Keep emergency kits on had to be prepared.

When there’s an electrical outage like the ones plaguing Christmas week, electricity crews must sometimes go on epic excursions to get the power back.
And, when the people in Seldovia found themselves lacking power for nearly the entire week, getting by demanded a supersize dose of patience.
“It’s been a real challenge,” said Seldovia Post Mistress Rosanna McInnis. “We’re on day four of power outages. Now it’s raining out on the ice and people are sliding off the road. The plow trucks are broken down and people are waiting to get dug out.”
The town proper retained power, but the line out of town was down for nearly 352 homes.
People operating generators during the down time needed fuel to keep them operating – but getting to town to purchase the fuel proved to be a challenge because the first step was trying to get out of their driveway.
The snow started falling on Christmas Eve and fell so heavily that it proved a problem for plowing. Seldovia roads are kept up by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and city plows but those tucked away in the scenic historic town were closed off and without the aid of the two private plowers.
Homer Electric Association crews were in Big Tutka Bay Thursday to make repairs to a damaged power line. The crew originally planned to access the area by boat, but determined that by taking a helicopter they were able to reach the damaged line prior to high tide.
“We’ve got a power line that stretches from Halibut Cove to Nanwalek, and it goes through some really intense areas,” said spokesman Joe Gallagher. “The line has crossings on bays, steep cliffs, rocky terrain – it is a difficult route to access.”
In years of heavy snowfall and wind storms, it’s a struggle to keep the power on. It’s also a struggle to get crews out to remote locations.
Maritime Helicopters has become experienced in what it takes to keep juice flowing to the lights.
“The utility line runs underneath from the Homer Spit to Halibut Cove and then on down,” said chief pilot, John Jacobs. “We take them to the closest available spot. Then, once they find the problem, they put together a plan.”
Maritime flies back to Homer for equipment that is packed into what’s called a flyback bag. It’s lowered to the ground for a drop off on a longline, via a remote hook.
“It’s a line that can be put down and the pilot can release it without people on the ground having to release it,” Jacobs explained.
After a dry, cold winter, the heavy snow that began on Christmas Eve fell heavily in Homer – an estimated three feet – but it fell even more heavily in Seldovia.
“It’s all weather driven, these problems here. Heavy snow loads or strong winds cause trees to contact wire and cause problems,” Jacobs said.
The heavy snow meant the helicopter couldn’t make it to Seldovia on Christmas Eve.
“On Christmas Day they were able to patrol the line – each day since then they’re making progress, but due to the conditions, it has been a tough go,” Gallagher said.
An additional HEA crew from the Kenai area had to be sent in to assist in the restoration work.
The outage affected 352 HEA meters along Jakolof Bay Road to Big Tutka Bay. HEA crews made repairs to equipment along Jakolof Bay Road, but the system still registered a problem on the line between Seldovia and Six Mile on Jakolof Bay Road later in the week.
The situation was tricky: HEA was prevented from energizing the line from the Gerry Willard Generation Plant along Jakolof Bay Road because an unexpected fault would result in damage to the generation plant and create a widespread outage in the area, Gallagher said. It’s the same generation plant currently providing power to Port Graham, Nanwalek and parts of Seldovia.
The goal was to make repairs to the main line at Big Tutka Bay and then energize the line in sections from Big Tutka Bay into Seldovia.
In the meantime, talk at the post office indicated a lot of people were worried about their freezers.
“That long without power, some people are really worried about losing food,” McInnes said. “I’m lucky I have my parents to stay with here in town. I wouldn’t be able to get to my front door right now.”
Yet, people in Seldovia are known for their hardy spirits.
“People go with the flow pretty well, even in challenging circumstances,” McInnes said.
By Friday morning all power was restored.

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Posted by on Jan 2nd, 2013 and filed under Headline News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response for “Storm strikes power, patience”

  1. Frank S says:

    HEA is such a joke. If all these power outages happened in any other place but Homer, there would be public lynchings. Now here it is Saturday. No snow, no rain and the fricking power is out again. Maybe if every union member that works for HEA didn’t drive around a new extended cab truck, they could upgrade the infrastructure on the Kenai. But instead I have to put up with constant power outages so the HEA employees can get their overtime and later this year they’ll whine about the cost of electricity and raise everyone’s rates again.

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