Broken Poles Slowed Door County Power Restoration

The Thursday, Sept. 29 windstorm that rattled the Door Peninsula with winds of up to 70 miles per hour knocked out power to 12,500 residents and caused hundreds of individual outages. Power didn’t come back on at many homes until late Saturday, with the final hundred or so getting power restored Monday, Oct. 3.

Wisconsin Public Service (WPS) spokeswoman Lisa Prunty said safety is still a concern, however, as branches and debris still pose hazards near power lines.

“Now that power is restored, electric lines are once again energized, so removing fallen tree branches or working in and around live wires must still be done with extreme caution and best left for professionals,” she said.

Prunty said 51,000 customers throughout the northeast Wisconsin region lost power at one point in the storm that workers in the field compared to “a hurricane without the water.”

“It was a very challenging storm,” Prunty said, “with winds of 69 to 70 miles per hour. Mother Nature had quite the fury that night.”

Amazingly, Director of the Door County Emergency Management Department Ann DeMeuse said no storm-related injuries were reported, and few buildings suffered severe damage.

“It was a very tough event because it was so widespread, but I feel that we sort of lucked out with no injuries or fires,” she said.

One hundred sixty eight line technicians from throughout Wisconsin were sent to Door County by WPS Saturday and Sunday to restore power. Many of those were short-term contractors brought in with mutual aid requests through the Wisconsin Utilities Association. In addition, eight, two-man crews from Asplundh tree service were brought in to help clear debris so that WPS crews could work on lines and poles.

“A broken pole is what really throws us off in getting power back on,” Prunty said, “and we had 75 broken poles.”

She said replacing a pole would normally take about three hours, but in Door County’s shallow soil it takes significantly longer to put new poles into rock. Restoration work was also delayed because hundreds of trees fell onto power lines and some were even uprooted to the point that their root systems tangled in the lines. Before the line technicians can work on those areas a crew must clear the debris, which took up to 12 hours at some locations.

In a storm event WPS sends an automatic call to all of the company’s employees, including administrative support. In this instance that brought in an additional 40 employees staffed at the utility’s Green Bay office to handle the influx of customer calls and coordination duties.

Prunty said WPS understands when customers are frustrated during an outage, but she urged people to recognize the scope of the problem the utility is faced with.

“If there’s a misconception it’s just that customers may not always realize the time it takes to physically go to all these locations to assess damage,” she said. “We have to restore power in the safest possible way not only for our customers, but for our line technicians as well.”

Those technicians work “round-the-clock,” Prunty said, “working the maximum hours allowed before taking mandatory rest periods.”

Prunty said WPS is continuing to search for more ways to communicate with the public during storm events, such as a Twitter account, @WPSstorm, launched in March to send updates via mobile devices.