Power outages will be required to make repairs
By Marcy Stamper
Although the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) was able to restore power fairly quickly after the August wildfires, 280 of the utility’s poles were so badly damaged that they have to be replaced before winter. The repairs will require one or two daytime power outages to make the repairs safely, according to General Manager John Grubich.
The unstable power poles include six on the Loup Loup transmission line that carries power to the Methow Valley. “We did the bare essential to get power back to the Methow,” said Grubich.
Another 48 poles on the Conconully Highway were also severely burned. Damage to the PUD’s infrastructure occurred “all over the place,” but the biggest impact was in the area between Conconully and Tunk Mountain in the eastern part of the county, said Grubich.
The condition of the poles still constitutes an emergency because they could threaten life or property. “Those six poles on the Loup will fall down if we don’t replace them before the snow flies,” said Grubich.
In addition to the poles, the fires burned 241 miles of distribution line, 4 miles of the Loup Loup transmission line near Okanogan, and 8,000 feet of fiber-optic cable. In all, the PUD estimates it will cost $3.5 million to $5 million in materials and labor to repair infrastructure.
State and county officials conducted preliminary damage assessments last week — which include the PUD’s losses — for a possible application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a disaster declaration. Washington emergency managers are still analyzing their findings to decide whether the damage warrants an application for aid, according to Karina Shagren, communications director for the Washington Military Department. A FEMA disaster declaration could reimburse the county and utilities for three-quarters of the cost of losses to public infrastructure.
The fiber-optic cables provide broadband Internet service throughout the county through leases to Internet providers. The Methow Valley’s service has not been affected because the PUD has a redundant fiber network along the valley floor from Pateros to Twisp, but they need to replace the cables over the Loup to ensure uninterrupted service, said Grubich.
The power outages have not been scheduled yet, but Grubich estimated repairing the Loup Loup transmission line would necessitate one or two eight-hour shifts during daylight hours.