Some frustrated Lardeau Valley residents say a 51½-hour power outage last week could have been minimized if BC Hydro kept repair crews closer to home.
A storm Thursday knocked trees across power lines, taking out six spans of large conductors and breaking ties and insulators on five other spans.
Electricity went out shortly after 2 p.m. for about 420 customers in Lardeau, Meadow Creek, Cooper Creek, Howser, Argenta, and Johnsons Landing, and wasn’t restored until 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
FortisBC initially responded to the outage, followed by a ten-person crew of BC Hydro aerial contractors from Vernon. According to Hydro spokeswoman Mary Ann Coules, “local crews did not have the manpower to handle a problem of this magnitude.”
She says the crew drove to the site “as it was too dangerous to use a helicopter on that slope,” and brought in all equipment and materials.
“The new conductor had to be pulled by hand along the right-of-way and was reinstalled one phase at a time and spliced individually,” Coules says. “Crews raised the line by hand to the linemen on each pole.”
However, work went slower than expected given difficult access and poor weather. “The mountainous conditions required exceptional work planning to minimize risk to the crews given the slope and unstable footing,” she says.
Faced with those conditions, crews stopped work after nightfall and resumed the next day.
However, some residents say BC Hydro should have contracted a FortisBC crew or made other provisions to hurry up the repair.
“The power outage is a terrible thing,” says Kaslo’s Ken Wapple, who owns Remco Shake and Shingle at Cooper Creek, and has experienced “oodles” of outages over the years. “BC Hydro treats people there like a third-world country.”
Wapple says each time the power goes out, about 50 people at local mills are idled.
“Nobody can go to work because all the mills are electric,” he says.
Larry Greenlaw, a retired store proprietor and former regional director for the area, says lengthy outages are the result of a “centralization of the system” that sees line crews coming from afar.
“It really hurts our industry here and the reputation of the place for industry,” he says. “Nobody wants to locate in a place where your power is so unreliable. I’d advise anyone buying property in this area to get a generator.”
Greenlaw says when FortisBC had crews in Kaslo available to do repair work, power outages were still frequent in the Lardeau, but lasted hours, not days.
Compounding matters in the winter are avalanches that close the highway, and the fact that phone service also goes out during lengthy outages.
And adding insult to injury, he says, is that the valley is home to BC Hydro’s Duncan Dam, which makes money in water storage fees, “yet we have the most unreliable power in the interior of B.C.”
Greenlaw says if it’s not feasible to have a repair crew permanently stationed in Kaslo, “at least they should have one at Castlegar or Kootenay Canal and not come over a mountain range to get here.”
Meanwhile, Sylvia Hamilton, owner of Drifter’s Restaurant in Meadow Creek, says they were not inconvenienced by the outage.
“It doesn’t hurt us. We have a generator, so we stay in business no matter what,” she says. “But we were just crazy [busy].”
She says most people are without water unless they live near a creek.
“We’ve got some funding coming to put a generator in the community hall to make it an emergency centre,” she says. “Hopefully that will take a lot of pressure off people.”
BC Hydro is also issuing a tender for the first phase of moving large sections of the line they had problems with this time to the highway, which the company says “will improve reliability to the Lardeau region and provide our crews with easier access to the line.”