School gets low outage priority

BAR HARBOR — Plans by Emera Maine to restore electricity in the event of widespread power outages do not place Mount Desert Island High School (MDIHS) as a higher priority than any other customer, a company representative said this week.

Speaking with the Islander in the wake of a three-day power outage at the high school last week, Emera communications supervisor Susan Faloon said that restoring electricity to the high school is not one of the first orders of business for line crews in the event of an outage.

“The high school is not on the top of our priority list,” Faloon said. “Our priorities are fallen power lines and emergency situations, then fire departments, police stations, hospitals then media outlets.”

Many areas of Mount Desert Island lost power during a fierce, early-season storm on Nov. 1 that brought snow, sleet, rain and high winds to the region. While most residences had their power back by Monday night or Tuesday afternoon, when Wednesday morning arrived, there was still no power at MDIHS. Some scattered outages remained on MDI as a whole into this week.

School officials were told at the time that the school was one of eight customers on a section of Eagle Lake Road that were without power, and they were given no indication of when power might be restored. It was at that time that maintenance director Butch Bracy decided to take a ride and see if he could find anything. Bracy said that he quickly found a pole on Eagle Lake Road where he could see from the ground that two of three fuses were knocked out.

“When I came back and called and told the lady about what I’d seen … it was only about 40 minutes later that there was a Hydro [Emera] truck there getting ready to put those fuses in. And then the school had power again.”

Faloon said that MDIHS is considered one customer by the power company, and is placed on equal footing as a normal residential customer, and that there are no plans to change that.

Faloon said she could not confirm the specific source of the outage at the school. However, she said, no matter how quick of a fix it might have been on Wednesday, there was no way to know what was wrong until power crews were on scene. Those crews arrived to restore power to the school and other nearby customers based on a restoration schedule that the company follows in the event of any outages.

“We restore power beginning at the transmission and substation level first, then move to circuits with larger numbers of customers first then to circuits with smaller numbers of customers,” she said. “The outage at the school had been reported, so we were aware of it. There were many other schools and businesses without power as well, so we have to follow our restoration approach.”

Faloon said that the Nov. 1 storm was one of the most damaging storms to hit Eastern Maine since the ice storm of 1998. At the peak of the outage, more than 60,000 Emera customers were without power. The company employed nearly 400 field workers, with crews from as far as Virginia and Newfoundland, to get the lights back on.

MDI school district Superintendent Howard Colter said Monday that he was surprised to find out that the high school was not higher on the power restoration priority list. He said that his understanding that the school could be used as an emergency shelter had led him to believe it was viewed more importantly.

However, Faloon said that being a potential shelter does not create a priority. Were the power company to be told that there were plans to use the school as a shelter, they would try to restore power there quicker, she said.

Colter also said that he was frustrated with the lack of information he was able to get during the outage.

“During that storm, there were very prompt and polite responses, but there wasn’t any kind of a sense of where we are in the process,” he said.

Since the storm, Colter has made some progress with setting up better communication channels in the event of a future emergency, he said. He has identified several community contacts who are in closer touch with Emera, including Emergency Management Agency leader Andrew Sankey, and he believes that communications will be better next time around.

“My impression is that they are going to try to give us some sort of improved communication, and certainly communication would be appreciated,” Colter said. “That would be a step forward.”

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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