Snow threat worrisome for utilities

Shumlin asking FEMA to assess storm damages

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

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All we ask for is a little patience.

- Reg Beliveau, Swanton Village manager

ST. ALBANS — In the wake of last weekend’s storm, local utility companies are hoping temperatures get high enough to melt some of the ice coating trees and power lines, while preparing for another round of snow that may bring more trees and lines down.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an assessment of damage from the ice storm in the counties of Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, and Orleans.

“This has been a real challenge for the utility crews because icy tree branches continue to fall and knock out power lines, making it difficult for the lines crews to keep the power on,” said Shumlin in a written statement. “It has also been a struggle for many Vermonters in these hard-hit areas, particularly in Franklin County and other northern Vermont communities, who are spending this holiday week without heat and electricity, often staying with friends and family.”

Nearly six inches of snowfall on Thursday complicated cleanup efforts, making conditions more hazardous for line crews and tree trimmers attempting to restore power.

Crews working for Enosburg Falls had restored power to all but 68 customers this morning, according to the Vermont outages website. The village utility has struggled with hundreds of outages in remote areas of its service territory, bringing in 17 outside line crews to assist with restoration efforts.

Statewide the number of households and businesses without power had dropped to 500 from a high of 22,000 in the immediate aftermath of the storm. However, the additional snowfall had more than doubled the number of households and businesses without power by late afternoon yesterday.

Hundreds of VEC customers lost power yesterday, as tree branches snapped under the combined weight of the snow and ice. At press time only 91 VEC customers remained without power, primarily in Franklin County.

Forecasters are reporting the region could get another 3 to 6 inches of snow, starting on Sunday. “People should be prepared for the possibility of more outages,” said VEC spokesperson Liz Gamache.

Swanton Village recalled one of its tree trimming crews, which had been assisting with power restoration to customers of Enosburg Falls’ electric utility, Swanton Village Manager Reg Beliveau said this morning. The crew was recalled to deal with trees that had become potential hazards as a result of the additional snow.

Linemen throughout the region, and those brought in to assist from other areas, have been working 14 to 16 hour days, according to Beliveau.

“Our linemen did not celebrate Christmas,” said Beliveau. “They will sacrifice family time to get power back on.”

The snow on top of ice also has made road and sidewalk cleanup a challenge. “All we ask for is a little patience,” said Beliveau. “There’s nothing we’re going to be able to do other than chip away at it little by little.”

With the potential for more snow this weekend, Beliveau said the public works department would focus on getting snow and ice away from buildings and businesses on Friday.

VEC will have planned outages in the coming weeks to allow for additional cleanup. “There are many areas of the system that are going to need further repair or cleanup,” said Gamache.