2012-10-25 / Top News

Highland declares emergency

By John Bruce, Staff Writer

MONTEREY- Highland County officials declared a state of emergency at noon Tuesday (yesterday) in response an extended power outage with no end in sight. Superstorm Sandy’s high winds knocked out power to an estimated 90 percent of the county. Except for the sheriff’s department, all county offices were closed for as long as the outage lasts.

Sheriff Tim Duff said  Mon Power indicated  service to Highland would be restored by Thursday night.

“No power and extreme temperatures are the main reasons,” emergency services coordinator Harley Gardner said.

“Our elderly population needs care, and at times like these we reach out. It’s a matter of having the capability to deal with it.” Sheriff Tim Duff said. He said gasoline was on sale at Rexrode’s Country Store and Mountain Oasis. No gas was being pumped in Monterey.

Meeting in the county sheriff’s office while declaring the disaster were Gardner, Sheriff Tim Duff, county administrator Roberta Lambert and supervisors chair David Blanchard. They issued an initial situation report to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. “Not knowing when the power is coming back on is the situation,” Blanchard said.

The county set up heating and comfort stations in the Monterey Firehouse, McDowell Firehouse and Bolar Ruritan.

Duff notified Highland Social Services and VPAS of the emergency. VPAS director Kathryn Coit and local council chair Sharon Hevener were preparing to check on seniors by telephone Sunday afternoon from the sheriff’s office.

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, which serves the county’s central and western portions, reported 1,414 Highland members without power Tuesday. Mike Aulgur, SVEC manager of external affairs, said that supplier FirstEnergy gave no indication when service might be restored. He said SVEC was working through its wholesale power provider “to exert some pressure” on FirstEnergy.

With “heavy snows now subsiding, comprehensive damage assessments are continuing.” FirstEnergy said in a statement Tuesday evening. “These assessments are a critical component in the ability to dispatch repair crews and determine estimated restoration times.” The statement went on to say that “helicopter patrols will be used in West Virginia when flying conditions improve.” FirstEnergy subsidiary Mon Power owns the line that extends from West Virginia and feeds power to Highland.

Asked whether plans are to pursue high-level action with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, SVEC CEO Myron Rummel said  ODEC has been involved with several different issues lately with First Energy. “In talking with the (ODEC) folks in Richmond, they are laying the groundwork to pursue further actions. 

“I cannot talk about the details, but suffice it to say they are actively working to get action. I can't say they are making progress as fast as I would hope, but I know they are working toward resolution,” Rummel said.

BARC Electric Cooperative, which serves the eastern half of the county, counted 572 members out, all toward the center of the county on lines fed by FirstEnergy.

Duff urged county residents with working phones to check on their neighbors, particularly elderly people, and to be willing to share resources. Highland Telephone Cooperative’s generators were up and running, he said.

“If you’ve got a gas grill and some propane, invite your neighbors over for dinner,” he said. “It’s all the little things. Let’s take what we learned in June,” he said, referring to the major windstorm June 29 that pummeled the county and left residents without power for a week.

Duff said residents have exercised “extreme calm” during the outage. “The public has called offering to assist,” he said, adding the department will avail itself to those opportunities as needs arise. “It’s all about locals helping locals,” he said.

“Conserve resources such as heat and water,” Duff said.

County administrator Lambert said the McDowell and Monterey municipal water system wells were full and ready for fire fighting.

“All emergency services are in full operation,” Duff said. “Should an emergency arise, call 911, or if you have a specific need, call 468-2210.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Highland County Schools announced they would be closed Wednesday, for a third day, due to the outage.

Wednesday morning, Duff reported trick-or-treaters should plan to go out Saturday night, instead of Wednesday night.

Updates will be posted here as new information becomes available today.




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