Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 18 December 2007 15:03
The jeering from some residents regarding tree-trimming efforts by Hillsboro city employees in mid-November may be cause for cheering following last Tuesday’s ice storm.
City Administrator Larry Paine said Thursday that the city’s aggressive tree-trimming efforts the past couple of months ago are a primary reason the city received electrical power as quickly as it did in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
“I know we got flack for (the tree trimming), but these folks now have power and can heat and cook.” Paine said. “That work was important to our ability to move through this storm without further damage.”
Although the east side of the city endured a temporary power loss during the day on Tuesday, and the entire city was down later that day from about 5 p.m. to 1:15 a.m., Paine said neither event was caused by tree limbs pulling down primary lines around the city.
Paine said the partial blackout was caused when the weight of ice pulled apart a “crimp” repair in a line that was made 10 to 15 years ago. The city-wide blackout was caused by a malfunction at the Westar substation.
“The only other problems we had in town were on secondary lines on private property, where it goes from the transformer to the house,” Paine said. “Lines got pulled off the house by falling limbs. That’s where we had the most difficulty.”
He said city hall received around 50 calls about such occurrences, and it was difficult for city workers to tell residents they had to wait until private electrical contractors had to repair the hookups before the city could turn on their power.
“The best thing that happened from our side was that for the past couple of weeks we’ve been trimming trees,” Paine said. “If we hadn’t done that, we’d have lines down everywhere and they’d still be out working on them.”
Paine said sometimes it takes an ice storm for residents to “relearn” the value of trimming trees.
“People are tuned in to their trees and how they look,” he said. “But from my perspective, if they expect me to deliver electricity to them—when it’s not there, I hear about it.
“It’s one of those things where electric lines and trees are placed in the same general area, but they’re incompatible,” he added. “The spaces should be different.”
Paine said the only other significant power-outage issue the city dealt with was pumping water from Marion Reservoir to the city’s treatment plant.
“Flint Hills (Rural Electric Cooperative) had some problems with stuff going down,” he said. “But Flint Hills went out of their way to make sure the water plant ran.
“Had (the outage) continued, we wouldn’t have had enough water to produce what we need in this period of time,” he added. “If there had been a fire, that would have been the real problem.”
Overtime for city crews
Paine said city crews worked with minimal breaks on storm-related issues all day Tuesday, through the night and following day until 5 p.m.
Paine, in his first ice storm as Hillsboro’s city administrator, said a similar storm in January 2005 had prepared the local crew to manage this one more efficiently.
“The key thing I saw the crew doing that impressed me was the way they prioritized what they worked on,” Paine said.
He compared the process to the triage approach in a medical emergency.
“Gary Andrews did the triage—apparently that’s something he did on the last storm, and they figured out it works,” Paine said. “The folks in the office collected the calls that come in and did some sorting. Then they called Gary, who went out and looked at the situation and decided whether (the city) would do something now, or if it was something that could wait.
“It really made the electric crews’ work much more efficient. It was amazing to watch.”
Paine said another thing city workers learned from the previous storm is that when a city-wide power outage occurs, power needs to be restored in stages rather than the entire city at once.
“During the last ice storm there was a problem with natural gas,” he said. “Everybody went down at once and it sucked the line dry.”
He said restoring the entire city at once two years ago had caused some fire issues.
This time, the three city feeds were reenergized one at a time, with city and natural-gas personnel driving through every alley to make sure there were no problems.
“That was another lesson learned from the last ice storm,” Paine said.
Removing tree limbs
As it did two years ago, Paine said city crews will remove tree limbs that are brought curbside—but it may take some time for the process to be complete.
“I think the smartest thing for us to do is to wait until those limbs thaw out,” he said. “Water weighs 71⁄2 pounds per cubic foot. Just lifting that stuff and getting it into the truck is going to be monumental because of the extra weight of the ice.
“We’ll get to it, but it may take a week or longer,” he added. “We’re going to do what we can to make sure the guys can do whatever needs to be done, but we’re going to do it smart.”