Nearly two weeks after one of the worst storms in the city’s history, New London Utilities General Manager Steve Thompson is still compiling to-do lists from the aftermath of the storm.
The Aug. 20 storm took down over a thousand trees, snapped power poles, blew up transformers and brought down power lines from one end of the city to the other.
Most of the 3,500 customers without power were back in service three hours after the storm.
According to Thompson, that’s a credit to his crews, and an extremely reliable electric system.
New London has three 345 KVA lines coming into the city, with 138,000 circular ring busts. “Essentially you could lose three-quarters of that and still be energized in New London,” reports Thompson.
“We have a redundant loop system here. That gives us the ability to open, close, and take apart our system, so we can feed it from multiple directions,” said Thompson. “That’s why were able to get so many people back up with power as quickly as we did. Without that system some people could have been down for five or six days at least.”
“A lot of systems do not have that built into them,” explains Thompson. “It was the foresight of the Utility Commission to allow us to do those things,” he added. “We probably have the stiffest power delivery system in the State of Wisconsin.”
The worst hit section of New London’s power delivery system was on Old River Road where 14 poles in a row came down, up to the Embarrass River at St. John’s Street. “That is the power supply for all of the businesses on the south side of North Water Street,” reports Thompson.
Line Superintendent Jim Ulman, a 45 year veteran (29 years with New London Utilities) came up with a solution to construct a new, three-phase line across the river from Wolf River Avenue, which would enable them to bring power back to the south side of N. Water Street.
Two crews worked through the night to build the new line. “We had power to the south side of North Water Street by 3 a.m. Saturday, which was pretty amazing considering there was nothing even there to work with,” said Thompson.
Other crews worked through the night in the Fifth Ward and on the city’s south side.
Crews from Great Lakes Line Builders and Michaels Power arrived to help out shortly after dark Friday night. Rose Stern, a 28-year veteran in the office at New London Utilities had tears well up as she looked out the window and saw the parade of trucks come down the driveway. “It was quite a sight to see,” she said.
The number of calls that came in after the storm were in a stack and totaled nearly a ream of paper.
Thompson said his crews had just pulled into the garage as they finished their normal work day, before the storm hit. “They were in the garage watching the heavy rains outside. Then the lights flickered, and the first breaker alarm went off, then the second. Immediately they were grabbing their rain coats and getting back in the trucks,” said Thompson.
“I can’t say enough about the work ethic of our crews and the contractors who came in to help,” explained Thompson. “They didn’t question anything, they stayed calm, collective and on the job. They couldn’t have done anything more.”
Sorting out the tremendous volume of calls and responding to the widespread damage required swift and organized action.
“I can’t thank our employees enough for what they did. They did tremendous work,” said Thompson. “I also would like to thank our customers who were so patient with us. One woman even brought us down a cake.”
The storm of Aug. 20 left the most damage Thompson has ever seen in his 39 year career.
“At this point everything is backed up and I’ve got about a hundred minor things to check up on,” said Thompson. “As far as permanently rebuilding everything to the way it was, that could take several months and cost approximately $425,000.”
He said the damages would have been much worse if the utility did not have a proactive tree trimming program.
“We’ve had a real solid tree trimming program in place for the past 20 years and it has paid dividends,” said Thompson. Crews spend about 90 days each winter trimming trees and limbs near power lines. “It’s all preventative maintenance,” he explained.
He’s also thankful they had enough materials in stock to keep crews working to repair the system after the storm. “Again, that comes back to the commission and their foresight in allowing us to build our system the way it is today,” said Thompson.
The five member board collectively has 102 years of service. Duane Brown has served on the commission for 33 years, Russ Gerhard 20 years, Roger Steingraber 20 years, Diane Rudie 19 years, and John Shaw 10 years.
New London Utility Staff has over 385 years experience
Randy Wetmore 41 years
Rick Houk 37 years
Pete Ruckdashel 37 years
Jim Ulman 29 years
Rose Stern 28 years
Mike Frederick 27 years
Steve Thompson 25 years
Jim Meidam 21 years
Kevin Schramm 20 years
Jay Bessette 13 years
Mike Pinch 13 years
Dave Murphy 12 years
Robbie Kumbier 6 years
Don Sommer 8 years
Judy Resch 7 years
Missy Fields 7 years
Tom Faucher 4 years
Ann Wege 1.5 years