2017-09-28 / News

After Two Power Outages, Council Raises Utility Staffing Concerns

By Stephanie Fortino

Two September power outages six days apart have raised new Mackinac Island City Council concerns about the Island having just one resident lineman from Cloverland Electric Cooperative since December 2015.

When the lights go off on the Island, a waiting game begins as Cloverland Electric Cooperative must bring at least one employee from the mainland to help make repairs and restore power. One Cloverland lineman lives on the Island, but power line repairs require at least two trained people. A second lineman, hired for the Island in February, has since moved to the mainland.

The day after the first outage, which occurred Tuesday, September 12, the Mackinac Island City Council renewed calls for Cloverland to hire a second lineman to live there, which would reduce how long residents and tourists are left in the dark.

Most of the power lines on Mackinac Island are underground; it takes longer to repair them than overhead lines because it’s harder to find the damaged part, or fault. The September 12 outage and another Sunday, September 17, were in buried power lines, Todd Chapman, Cloverland Electric Cooperative communications director, told The St. Ignace News.

On September 12, the power went out around 9 p.m., affecting 151 residential customers from Stonecliffe to British Landing and Silver Birches. The Inn at Stonecliffe, its restaurant, and the Woods Restaurant were without power, too. By about 11 p.m., additional Cloverland employees were transported to the Island on the Mackinac Marine Rescue Boat.

All but six customers had power restored within a couple of hours, Mr. Chapman said. The remaining six customers had power restored the next morning Wednesday, September 13, after a short section of the power line was repaired.

At the September 13 city council meeting, Mayor Margaret Doud said it’s very important to have a second lineman living on Mackinac Island. The council has been advocating for a second lineman for more than two years. In the summer of 2015, the council raised the issue as Mark Chambers prepared to retire from Cloverland that December. Dan Wightman of Mackinac Island still works for Cloverland, but has to wait for a second lineman to fix power outages.

“Cloverland has to realize we have to have two people, and I don’t care what time of the year it is,” Mayor Doud said. “You never know when it’s going to happen.”

Getting crews to the Island is often a challenge, especially when outages occur late at night or during bad weather. The September 12 night outage occurred after the boats had stopped running. Since Great Lakes Air also couldn’t fly a crew to the Island, the crew had to be transported by the city’s rescue boat.

Using Mackinac Marine Rescue isn’t always an option, Mayor Doud said, as it can only operate under good weather and wind conditions.

While saying she understood why the boat was used to transport the Cloverland employees, Councilor Anneke Myers said the boat wasn’t intended to be use as an emergency ferry.

“We didn’t purchase it to bring Cloverland crews over here late at night,” she said.

Jason St. Onge serves on both the city council and the Cloverland Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. Power outages will occur no matter what, he said, but the time to fix the outages would be shortened if a second lineman lived on the Island. In fact, the outage that occurred September 12 was fixed quickly, once the crew arrived.

“The actual fix took about 20 minutes,” he said. “It took an hour and 40 minutes to get the people here to do it. That’s what’s maddening.”

While he couldn’t disclose details, Mr. St. Onge noted that Cloverland is planning to address the second lineman issue, upon which he has been working since he was elected to the company board last year.

“I’ve worked very hard up there,” he said, “and there is a plan in the works that will, hopefully, sooner than later, change our situation here.”

The second outage occurred Sunday, September 17, at about 3 p.m.; a fault developed in an underground power line near the Bistro on the Greens at Mission Point Resort.

While some of the hotel was without power, Mr. Chapman said, most of the resort was unaffected. A Cloverland employee again was transported to the Island to help with repairs. The fault was isolated Sunday evening and repairs were made Monday morning, September 18.

A third power outage took place Sunday evening, September 24, after ferry service had stopped for the night, and a lineman was brought over from St. Ignace aboard the Mackinac Marine Response boat. Power to the two electrical accounts affected was restored in about two hours, according to Mr. Chapman, and the cause of that outage was not determined.

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