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Weekend Power Outage Post-Mortem With Public Works Director Bill Whitfield

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Photo By Megan Freeman

“Of all the poles to hit!!”, quipped the longtime head of the Village of Wellsville Department of Public Works(DPW). Whitfield and crew are just waking up from a little work related nightmare which put the entire village of Wellsville for out of power for five hours and some parts of the village without power for 29 hours!! Our talk with Bill Whitfield explains what happened, how it got repaired, and who helped in the effort.

According to Whitfield, the cause of the late morning crash was purely accidental. The brakes failed on a truck and they ditched off the road to avoid a collision with other vehicles. Fortunately, the driver and passenger where not injured, unfortunately the took out the guide wire of one of the most important utility poles in the entire village.

“That pole carries five village circuits including some 35,000 volt lines. When the accident happened, the pole snapped and that shorted out the entire village grid,” reported Whitfield.

Crews responded from the DPW and they knew it was going to be a long day, or three, at work. Because the village system does have certain emergency ‘work arounds’, crews were able to isolate the lines that are connected to the Vossler Road substation and re-route electric to the majority of the village. Most of the village south of the Bolivar Road had power restored about 4pm, but areas connected to the Vossler Road substation portion of the grid were without power for 29 hours. Those customers were located in the North Highland neighborhood, the entire commercial district north of Bolivar Road, the “Dresser Rand” area of the village, and Riverside Drive had to wait for major reconstruction before power could be returned.

While the crew at the DPW is about as good as they get, this was a job that required immediate action to minimize the duration of the outage. Because the downed utility pole carried so many different lines, almost all major utilities were impacted. Whitfield knew right away that his crew was going to need more equipment and manpower in order to avoid outages of “two or three days long.”

Fairport and Arcade crews responded right away, along with O’Connell Electric Company who had crews in the area. The NYS Department of Transportation provided emergency assistance and took a big load off the entire village workforce by directing traffic at intersections. The Wellsville Police Department and Wellsville Volunteer Fire Department were among the first on the scene and the last to leave.

“I know that 29 hours without power is rough and if it wasn’t for this team effort it could have been days more until we were able to re-energize.” Whitfield explained with some detail about the repair process itself. In layman’s lingo:

Step One: Isolate the portion of the grid connected to the Vossler Road substation in order to re-route power to the majority of the village. Step Two: Remove downed electric pole very carefully, replace the pole and the dozen plus major utility transmission lines. Step Three: Tensioning of the lines is a key step in the repair, also very important to do properly or risk major collateral damage. Step Four: Test and reconnect all lines safely.

Those residents in the areas impacted for over a day were frustrated that communication wasn’t better from the village. Unlike National Grid or RG&E, the village doesn’t have an online power outage notification service, and that might not have mattered.

“Part of the reason that communications were not flowing properly to the areas without power was the fact that the pole also carried Spectrum cable and internet service. That made it hard for us to get information out, and hard for customers to receive. We did provide as much information as we could to the press, the 911 system, and the village police department. It was an ‘all hands on deck’ emergency and we appreciate everyone’s patience and we understand the frustration,” Whitfield explained.

As Whitfield noted earlier in this reporting, this could have been days without power had it not been for the efficient group response. Much of that credit goes to the Municipal Electric Utility Associatio(MEUA) which the village has been a long-standing member. This organization provides a support network to all of the forty systems who belong. When Whitfield called for support, other members of the group, The Village of Fairport and the Village of Arcade, sent crews immediately. O’Connell Electric Company was in the area doing some other utility work and had equipment and linemen in place immediately.

“I can’t say enough about how important belonging to the MEUA is and this incident is a perfect example. The entire village public works crew, police, and other first responders deserve a round of applause for the response. We also want to thank the crews from Arcade, Fairport, NYSDOT, and O’Connell electric for coming to help get back online as quickly as possible,” WPD Director Bill Whitfield.

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