City restores power for 600 to 800Published 8:52am Wednesday, April 7, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC – “All in all, we were fortunate,” Superintendent Peg Stowers said Tuesday afternoon about wind storm damage to Union High School, whose students are on spring break this week.
“We have a section of roof in the new wing facing the auto shop that was damaged and will need repair along with, of course, the power poles,” Stowers said.
“Also, a roof vent was blown off from the gym roof and can be replaced. The fiber will also require some inspection to be sure it was not nicked.”
In addition to the imploded concession stands, Stowers said there was “limited damage” to the pressbox.
Dowagiac Municipal Airport, which lost three buildings, was a less fortunate replay of the storm last June 19.
Public Services Director and City Engineer Christopher Bolt said 25 percent of Dowagiac customers lost power due to downed power lines which left 600 to 800 in the dark.
By Tuesday afternoon, 18 to 20 outages remained which Bolt expected to be fully restored by dark. He said about a dozen were concentrated in one area.
Half a dozen utility poles were blown over or yanked down by toppling trees.
Tilting at 45-degree angles, they resembled levers that had been pulled.
Untangling some of the wires from branches Bolt likened to a “tricky surgical procedure” – especially since city lines overlap with other providers, such as AEP.
“It came out of nowhere. Very sudden and unanticipated” by the weather radar he followed.
Bolt added, “There was one scary moment when the wastewater treatment plant was having difficulties because sewage flows to the plant no matter what. Fortunately, the system came back up after a short period of time.”
This storm proved a milestone in one regard.
It was the first time Dowagiac tapped its mutual aid capability with surrounding communities.
Bolt summoned Niles, its closest ally, for help and it responded with two trucks and a four-man crew.
With numerous incidents throughout the community of downed trees and power lines to locate in “pitch black,” Bolt said, “It takes a good hour or two to pull the forces together and start scouting.”
“The Fire Department is our eyes and ears in assessing damage,” he said, including restricting traffic along E. Division, which had several trees which hung over the street in live wire hammocks.
Fortunately, he and Department of Public Safety Director Tom Atkinson, who oversees the Police and Fire Departments, gave him additional manpower through close contact throughout the night.
“I need to applaud the crews,” Bolt said. “The electrical crew called itself in.”
So “highly focused” were city personnel on their customers, “We haven’t fully assessed our own facilities,” Bolt said.
With 10 to 12 streets clogged, crews immediately set about to clear affected areas. The bulk of arteries were flowing again by 6 a.m. CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers in their bright vests manned barricades and directed traffic.
Bolt said there are four linemen and a foreman.
In addition, the Public Works crew adds six guys, including the chief mechanic, for everything from water, streets and lift stations to plowing snow.
Finally, there is a quartet which maintains the wastewater treatment plant, including a foreman.
“In times like this it comes down to emergency planning and preparedness,” said Bolt, who joined the city a year ago.
Even making sure chainsaws are sharpened in slack times – “soft sharpening.”