Icy edge to winter’s bite

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It’s going to take a week to dig out from under this

- Allen Robtoy - Public Works Director

ST. ALBANS — Vermont’s electric utilities reported nearly 15,000 households and businesses remained without power this morning following the weekend’s ice storm.

The storm was concentrated in the Champlain Valley and the northern reaches of the state, sparing most of central and southern Vermont, which received only rain. Enosburgh, Richford, Fairfax and Georgia were particularly hard hit.

Locally, public works officials say they will be dealing with the aftermath for days, if not weeks.

There were more than 1,200 residents in Fairfax and Georgia without power as of press time this morning, according to Green Mountain Power.

Crews from around the region were being brought in to assist with getting power restored to homes before a projected cold snap over the Christmas holiday.

Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) reported 9,000 outages, with a great concentration in Berkshire, Fairfax and Montgomery. VEC is predicting some homes will remain without power through Christmas, despite the arrival of 400 outside repair crews.

An earlier predicted warming trend did not occur and the icing worsened over night, said utility staff.

Efforts to reach Jonathon Elwell, village manager for Enosburg Falls were unsuccessful this morning as Elwell and village staff worked to get power turned on to Enosburg Falls Village Electric Light and Water Department customers.

Electric crews from Swanton Village had been dispatched to assist in Enosburg, said Swanton Village Manager Reg Beliveau. “Our emphasis is trying to get our neighboring community up,” said Beliveau.

Swanton lost a main electric line, leaving 480 customers without power for a few hours, Beliveau reported, but power was fully restored as of this morning. However, he said falling limbs are causing sporadic outages.

The American Red Cross of Vermont and New Hampshire Upper Valley region opened two emergency shelters in Vermont, including one at Enosburg Falls High School (EFHS) on Sunday. The other was opened at North Country Union High School in Newport.

As of this morning, the shelter at EFHS was still open, but its status may soon change as power comes back on in the area, said Doug Bishop of the Red Cross. He said about 60 people stayed overnight in the shelter, with a “handful” of others coming and going throughout the afternoon and evening.

“Its continued status is still up in the air,” Bishop said of the EFHS shelter. “Right now we’re talking with local officials to decide what our best next steps are.”

Traffic and cleanup

Although there were some accidents reported locally (see photo page 3A), there were fewer traffics problems than anticipated, according to St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor. “People did heed warnings and we didn’t have the traffic issues people feared we might,” said Taylor.

Local road crews were out throughout the weekend battling ice and downed trees. Steve Beauregard, Director of Public Works for St. Albans Town, said his crews worked 37 straight hours at one point. “Everybody’s rested this morning and we’re trying to get the roads cleaned up,” he said.

John Nutting, Richford’s road foreman, said his crews would clear a road only to have to clear it again within an hour. “We’re just trying to keep the roads open. There’s brush everywhere. Most roads are single-lane,” said Nutting.

Volunteers, particularly loggers, have been assisting with cleanup efforts. As for his staff, “My hat goes off to them,” said Nutting.

In St. Albans City, the largest concern now is the sidewalks, according Public Works Director Allen Robtoy.

The city allowed about an inch of snow to remain on the sidewalks to protect the sidewalk and make clean up of the ice easier, explained Robtoy. But the layer of ice on top of the snow is so thick it is difficult to get a plow through it.

“It’s going to take a week to dig out from under this,” said Robtoy.

So far the city has not lost any trees to the storm, which Robtoy said may be a result of the city’s increased efforts to remove potentially dangerous trees over the past two to three years.
However, he fears the continued drizzle combined with falling temperatures may bring down trees. “I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet, in terms of trees,” he said.

It will also take some time to clear all of the ice from the side streets. “The goal is to keep the main arteries passable and you spread out into the neighborhoods after that,” said Robtoy.
His staff is sanding now, and will be out with graters to break up the ice over the next few days.

The light traffic during the storm made the work of road crews easier, according to Beauregard. St. Albans Town applies brine, salt suspended in liquid, to the roads in place of regular salt. When the storm began, the town had more than a week’s supply. They ran out on Sunday, said Beauregard.

The greatest challenge came Sunday morning. Town road crews went out around 2:30 a.m. and completed their routes, which typically take about two hours. At 5 a.m. they went out again, only this time it took them 6.5 hours to finish their routes, according to Beauregard.

Although traffic was lighter than expected, Vermont State Police reported multiple crashes on both Saturday and Sunday on Interstate 89. On Friday evening, VSP advised travelers to avoid I-89 due to the extremely slippery conditions.

Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) crews assisted VSP in laying down “product” — sand, salt and gravel — to assist with getting tractor-trailer units blocking the roadway moving again.

Just before 6 p.m. Sunday, a Peterbilt Tractor Trailer unit jackknifed and came to a resting stop lying across both lanes of Route 78 in Alburgh, police said. Authorities had to close that road for several hours while crews worked to clear the scene.

The truck driver, Michel Manley, 50, of Hyde Park was transported to Northwestern Medical Center where he was treated and released for minor injuries.

Police reported damage to the truck’s cab. No criminal charges were reported, as the crash was a direct result of the icy road conditions, police said.

Advance planning made it easier to meet the challenges posed by the storm, suggested Robtoy. Taylor had called city officials and emergency staff together on Friday to plan for the weekend.

“We try to do our planning ahead of time instead of on a cell phone,” said Taylor.

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