Memory of ’07 ice prompts preparation


Ice-coated power lines caused the top of a utility pole to snap near Lehigh during last December?s severe ice storm?a common occurence that left hundreds of Marion County residents without power for days. Utility providers are hoping for the best this winter, but are preparing for the unexpected worst. Free Press file photo.

Winter has arrived and for those who haven?t prepared a winter storm checklist, now might be a good time to do so, according to Flint Hills Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Westar Energy, the companies providing electrical power to much of this area.

Following the one-year anniversary of last year?s ice storm on Dec. 10, which knocked out power to some rural customers for almost two weeks, Bill Wessel, member service manager at Flint Hills RECA in Council Grove, said it?s not too late to have a plan.

?Most customers were without power an average of three or four days, but it was the worst storm in the company?s history (with respect to downed lines and outages).

?Our last customer had lights back on Dec. 24,? he said.

The storm ripped a path from Wichita to St. Joseph, Mo., with more than 200 miles of line down or the equivalent of more than 10,000 power poles.

In total, that ice storm left more than 73,000 Kansans without power, 38,000 from Westar Energy and 35,000 with rural electric cooperatives, according to information from Sharon Watson, public information officer, adjutant general?s office.

Because of the magnitude of outages last year, Wessel said, many customers might be thinking about or have added a standby generator to their electrical system.

However, when doing so, he said, it requires a transfer switch, which allows switching from a primary power source to a secondary source.

?This is a requirement of both the National Electrical Code and all electric power suppliers for two critical reasons ? preventing injuries to utility personnel and damage to the generator,? he said.

Flint Hills RECA is also continuing to upgrade its poles and other distribution equipment from storms and as part of routine maintenance.

?In January 2005,? Wessel said, ?we also had an ice storm and any electrical lines repaired from that storm didn?t go down in the ice storm last year.?

Wessel said his company and other power firms are still meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency from last year?s ice storm and restoration efforts.

Although Wessel said he did not attend, he did say FEMA meetings were held Dec. 9-11 in Topeka for the purpose of explaining to electric companies why reimbursements from last year?s storm were not as large as many anticipated.

?According to information I received about the meetings, we (rural electric companies) are between a rock and a hard place,? Wessel said.

Watson said the adjutant general?s office also includes the state?s emergency management division, which coordinated the meetings.

The federal agency delayed the appeals filed by Region 7 entities so that it could first explain its side of the reimbursement process, she said.

Following the December meeting, rural electric companies will have 60 days to file an appeal on their losses.

?The total cost of last year?s storm was $120 million,? Watson said, ?and FEMA reimbursement was $87 million.?

The initial estimate of storm damage was $343 million, but that was later reduced, she said.

?Although the reimbursement is for every agency, a significant portion was for utilities.?

In Marion County, Flint Hills RECA serves Lincolnville, Tampa, Lost Springs, Durham, Lehigh, Peabody and other local areas.

Region 7 includes Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.

The exact breakdown on what FEMA paid utility companies was not available at press time.

Prepared in Marion County

Marion County Commissioner Randy Dallke said the commissioners will, in the near future, be discussing plans for a two-year-old $55,000 generator currently stored at the county?s south shop in Marion.

The generator, Dallke said, which was purchased using grant money, will supply power in the event of storms or for emergency power at the courthouse, jail and two other nearby buildings.

The holdup, he said, has been a design for the generator.

?We need a complete plat of the courthouse square,? he said, ?which was not what we (commissioners) were told by an engineer out of Wichita.?

The next step is to go back to local engineer Harvey Sanders and see what can be done.

Sanders, who serves as the public works director for the city of Marion, said a pad mount will also be needed to put the generator on once the other plans are in place.

City of Marion

Sanders also talked about the city?s preparedness in the event of another major ice storm.

?Three years ago we were hit hard,? he said. ?An ice storm knocked out power here and in parts of Hillsboro. Most of the problem was with trees. When ice builds up on tree limbs, it will fall onto secondary lines and that is a big problem.?

Sanders said there were a few problems with primary lines.

?When there?s weight on the lines from the ice and a little bit of wind comes up, it will pop them like toothpicks,? he said.

City of Hillsboro

Hillsboro City Administrator Larry Paine said he appreciated all the work done by city crews and residents to keep trees trimmed near power lines.

?The only outage the city had was related to the city?s distribution site and was unrelated to the ice storm last year,? he said.

The biggest problem is tree limbs, Paine said, and a big reason Hillsboro escaped serious outages was due to cutting the limbs back from lines.

?Our guys were trimming out trees along lines?it didn?t always look nice,? he said, but it will keep outages to a minimum.

Tree limbs aren?t the only variables in an ice storm. Paine talked about the weight of ice on a line and pulling the ?crimp? apart. He compared a crimp to Chinese handcuffs, which are open cylindrical objects involving someone putting a finger into each end and trying to pull them apart.

The idea is the harder someone pulled the device the more it would squeeze the fingers, preventing them from separating.

?The ice would weigh down on the crimp, which transmits electricity through the lines, and pull it apart,? he said.

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