December 27, 2013






Utilities battle to plug back in after ice storm
by Lora Whelan


     A three‑day mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain starting on the weekend of December 21 left many Washington and Charlotte county residents with no or intermittent power from the three companies supplying grid‑connected electricity: Bangor Hydro Electric Company, Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative and New Brunswick Power. Power was not expected to be returned to some areas for up to six days, leaving some people to celebrate Christmas in the cold and dark. However, many helped family, friends or neighbors to keep warm and cheered up, particularly as temperatures dropped into the low teens on December 24.
     "This is not a typical storm situation, and although not as severe as the ice storm of 1998, it's the largest since that storm," said Gerry Chasse, president of Bangor Hydro and Maine Public Service. "We ask that you check in on your neighbor to ensure they are safe and have heat or a back-up place to stay." The ice storm of '98 had sheared off towers for eight miles of Bangor Hydro's high-voltage transmission lines in the Deblois area, causing outages throughout Washington County, while outages with this storm have been more localized.
     On December 24 more than 100,000 customers in Maine were without power, and the number in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia rose to over 50,000 on December 23. In Washington County, Bangor Hydro reported on the afternoon of December 23 that 9,548 metered customers were without power. That number had improved somewhat by the morning of December 24, with 7,390 customers still without electricity. By 5:15 a.m. on December 26 the figure had dropped to only 529 customers, and almost all were expected to have power by the end of Friday, December 27. Bangor Hydro reported that crews from Maine Public Service and other states have joined the Downeast crews to work on snapped utility poles and tree limbs. Parts of the county received up to an inch of ice from the storm system.
     The Bangor Hydro live outage map on the morning of December 24 showed a patchwork of outages. Portions of Lubec, Whiting, the towns around Cobscook Bay, East Machias, Machiasport, Machias, Jonesport and Cutler and more communities in the county were without power. The City of Eastport, while experiencing ice‑up, as a whole had relatively short outages. However, a few sections were still noted as out on December 24, including parts of Water, Key and Brinker streets.
     Eastern Maine Electric Coop estimated that repairs to customers also might take until December 27 or December 28. As of the evening of December 24, EMEC Communications Manager Charlie McAlpin said that 3,000 residences and businesses were out of power.
     The company's linemen are being supported by 10 contract tree‑trimming crews and four mutual‑aid crews. The company went from its usual brigade of three bucket trucks to 17. On the morning of December 24, the company began working on the four major feeder lines that had been hit the worst. These were: the South Princeton Road circuit from Princeton down to Wesley and Day Block Township; the circuit from Baileyville down Route 191 toward Meddybemps and Cooper; the River Road circuit south of Washington County Community College; and the North Union Road circuit between Route 9 and Route 191.
     McAlpin says that the damage came in two waves, with repairs taking place in between that then had to be repaired again. "There are just so many trees down," he adds.
     For those who were in need of a warm place to stay, Washington County Community College opened its doors as an emergency shelter.
     New Brunswick Power customers were also feeling the cold, with 9,500 customers in the St. Stephen region reported as having no power on December 24. NB Power Communications Manager Deborah Nobes says that the St. Stephen area, extending from the town up along the coast and into the St. George area, was among the hardest hit in Charlotte County. "It's been a real battle in that area." Normally her company would be asking for help from Maine crews, but she notes that Maine is in the same boat as New Brunswick. While Nova Scotia also has outages, they were not hit as heavily and have sent some crews to help.
     Nobes says that while many customers will have power restored on December 24 and 25, the work won't be completely done until Saturday, December 28. The company had restored 48,000 customers as of December 24 but had seen some restored power lines lost again as tree damage continued. "It's really frustrating for the customers and for the linemen," she says.
     Customers with access to the Internet can look up their community's power restoration status at the NB Power website's "Power and Outages" link found at <>. Or for more information call 1-800-663‑6272. For those with a power‑related emergency, the company recommends calling 911.
     In the Bangor Hydro service area, to check on power outage updates, visit Bangor Hydro's live outages map and town outages under the link "Outages and Restoration" on the website <>. To report an outage call 973‑2020 or 800‑440‑1111.

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