The Storm Report
CMP Powers Up as Voters Flock to Polls
Thursday, November 06, 2014 4:11 AM
"We saw it coming a week in advance," said Jim Wright, the Transmission Supervisor for CMP, as he juggled a coffee and his cell phone.
Route 52, above, was closed due to a hemlock that fell across the road in Lincolnville, inset. (Photos by C. Parrish)
Wright, who is known to the public as the guy on television who reminds watchers "No line is safe to touch," had pulled into the Rockland Dunkin' Donuts in a CMP orange pickup truck at midday Tuesday, leading a convoy of a 10-person CMP Transmission Line crew hauling ATVs in a trailer, followed by a red truck with an 8-person sawyer crew from Lucas Tree.
Wright's crew had just fixed transmission lines up near Searsport, and had worked on lines in Unity, Rockland, and Thomaston and were headed to Woolwich to fix a broken insulator spotted during a helicopter fly-over.
"We're headed to fix it before it does cause an outage, then we'll head over to our last stop in Union to cut a tree off the line," said Wright. "Then the crew will switch over to work on the distribution lines along the roads."
Wright pulled up the latest number of power outages on his phone. Outages were down from a statewide high of 84,000 on Sunday to 44,543.
CMP had lined up out-of-state crews a week in advance of the storm and had 800 workers on the ground in Maine from all over the region.
"We knew it was coming," said Wright. "We expected the wind. We didn't expect this much snow."
The Sheriff's Report
Waldo County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Jason Trundy, who lives in Lincoln-ville, was still without power Wednesday afternoon.
Waldo County law enforcement was tapped out responding to calls during Sunday's storm. Dispatch received 432 emergency calls on Sunday, including 18 traffic accidents reported. Over a hundred calls came in reporting traffic hazards during the storm and 26 calls reporting fire, although many of those turned out to be sparking wires, according to emergency management staff.
On Monday, trees and lines were down every few hundred feet on Route 1 between Lincolnville Beach and Camden, with traffic swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid them and tractor-trailers just barely skirting under electric lines weighted with heavy, wet snow. Fallen trees leaned precariously against power lines. For six miles the only hazard warning was a single orange-and-white can on the side of the road near a tangle of lines wrapped around a tree.
Trundy agreed that an emergency like the November 2 snowstorm highlighted holes in the system of alerting the public to hazards.
"For a lot of small towns, the only resource to direct traffic in an emergency are the volunteer fire departments," said Trundy. "Honestly, if it weren't for the fire departments, we would be in a pickle."
But in a storm like this, firefighters were likely trying to figure out their own problems at home, he said, leaving no-one to deploy to put up hazard alerts along busy travel corridors like Route 1, he said.
"If it's a hole in the system, I don't know how you would fix it in a case like this," he said.
The Lincoln County Sheriff's Department reported 18 accidents during the heart of the storm, many of them SUVs that slid off the roadway, some hanging up in trees, rolling into streams, hitting utility poles, slamming into parked vehicles in driveways and straddling ditches.
Several cars were rear-ended by apparent tail-gaters, who couldn't avoid the trouble ahead. Two drivers smashed into fallen trees blocking the roads in Newcastle, and a large tree snapped the wires it was leaning on in Boothbay Harbor and fell onto a moving truck.
The Knox County Sheriff's Office reported responding to 450 to 600 calls for service during the day and overnight.
Power was reported out at Pen Bay Medical Center.
By Monday afternoon, it was sunny and clear. As much of Rockland was shivering in their unheated homes and wondering just how long power would be out, a small sailboat launched in Rockland Harbor, tacking back and forth in water that looked as calm as that of a summer day.
Red Cross Shelter and Warming Station
By 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, 21 people had signed into the Red Cross emergency shelter that had been set up at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport to serve residents without power in Knox and Waldo counties. People waited in the school cafeteria for dinner, which was being prepared by the Salvation Army and brought to the high school for those who had taken refuge from their cold houses. Just after dark, a couple pulled in and hauled out suitcases and wheeled them into the building, with plans to stay overnight. Four people ended up staying in army-style cots set up in the dance studio.Elyse Socker, the program manager for Adult Education, had come in, even though the school was closed and adult education classes were cancelled. She and her husband had been out of power since Sunday at 5 p.m.
"I know exactly when the power went out, because I had put a pork roast in the oven an hour earlier and it still had two hours to cook before it was done," said Socker.
The Red Cross shelter closed Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.
In Union, a warming center had been set up at the Union Fire Department with hot coffee, cocoa, cookies and hot showers. Seven people had stopped in to shower, a few to fill up water jugs, others for coffee, and some to charge their cell phones.
Next door, Union Town Clerk Marcy Corwin reported steady voter turnout, with waiting lines to vote since polls had opened in the morning.
The CMP Mobile Command Center
A mile away, Central Maine Power had commandeered the Union Fairgrounds as a staging area for 25 work crews from around New England and Canada, with the brain of the operations in a mobile command center trailer supplied by PSNH, the largest electric company in New Hampshire.
CMP started using staging areas several years ago, basing the operation on the same command structure used in military operations and fire-fighting. They had proved to be the most useful way to disperse, supply, and communicate with on-the-ground work crews after a storm, and to absorb crews from different areas and put them immediately to work.
A supply truck pulled up with cases of drinking water for the crews. Bag lunches sat ready for pick-up on a folding table outside the trailer.
Inside, CMP?and PSNH staff answered phones and passed on information to work crews, updating the Storm Trouble Outage Board on one computer and a GIS map indicating the location of reported outages with yellow dots on another. Most of the yellow dots were clumped between Brunswick and Belfast.
Camden and Rockport and the peninsulas southeast of Rockland still had the most outages.
Eleven thousand more homes had their power back on since Wright had checked his phone five hours earlier at Dunkin' Donuts. At 4 p.m Tuesday, 33,000 homes were still without power.
"We are committed to have 90 percent of the power restored by Wednesday night," said CMP Regional
Operations Manager Dennis Lajoie, who had come over with several other CMP employees from the Bridgton area.
Lajoie adjusted the GIS map to high definition, until individual yellow dots showed, indicating homes without power. The dots were connected by green lines, indicating power lines.
As a line was repaired, the green line and yellow dots along it disappeared from the screen.
Smart meters, which are supposed to be clever enough to communicate between houses and CMP?headquarters, don't yet alert CMP when the power goes out.
"Maybe in a few years, but, right now, if you don't call, we don't know you don't have power," said Lajoie.
The work management system was on an adjacent screen, showing a list of roads, by town, where the power was still out.
A call came in. There were four bucket trucks working just south of Camden, and a vehicle accident blocking traffic nearby.
In between calls, the Mainers in the command center were trying to figure out how to vote, since the Maine Secretary of State had given the okay that line and tree crews doing storm-related work could vote using an absentee ballot downloaded from the state website.
"A lot of the guys on the crews are hunters," said Lajoie. "They don't want to miss the vote on the bear referendum."
Question 1, on the state ballot, would have banned hunting bears using dogs, traps, and bait.
When voting results were in on Wednesday afternoon and it was clear that Question 1 had failed, Jim Wright answered his cell phone at a staging area in a parking lot located across from Moody's Diner in Waldoboro. He had a crew of 18 with him working the north side of town.
"We have 9,000 homes still out," he said. "It's going down. We plan to have 95 percent of customers with power back by the end of the day."
"It's coming together real good," he said. "We'll have that number cut in half by nightfall. That will leave the stragglers down at the end of lines, on peninsulas."
"It's those on those smaller lines, near ponds and lakes, that will be the last to come on."