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Posted October 30, 2012 | comments 4 Comments

Superstorm Sandy: Officials say utilities in region fared better than expected

By Alex Bridges

The Northern Shenandoah Valley fared better against superstorm Sandy than feared, area officials and utility spokespeople said Tuesday.

Utility crews worked Tuesday afternoon to restore power to thousands of customers in the region in the wake of the storm. The number of reported outages appeared to fluctuate throughout the day.

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative plans to try and restore power to most customers by the end of the day Wednesday, according to a press release issued Tuesday afternoon. Rappahannock Electric Cooperative expects to restore power to most customers by the end of the day Thursday, according to its release.

Even with the widespread power outages, few localities reported disruptions in water service to residents and businesses. Some localities lost power to their water treatment plants during the derecho storm this summer.

Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative dispatched crews before dawn to begin restoration efforts, according to spokesman J. Michael Aulgur. The utility also had workers running Emergency 911 calls throughout the night.

"We were fortunate to have enough warning associated with this system to have plenty of support staff on standby ready to respond no matter what the situation called for," Aulgur said. "I think reports and others would agree with this is that for this particular area it could have been much worse than what it ended up being for us, so we feel very fortunate in that regard.

"All things considered, it's never good to have any members without service. But we do feel very fortunate to see the numbers we're seeing," Aulgur added.

The storm appeared to have spared the southern part of Shenandoah County. But flooding caused some damage in Strasburg, the west side being hit the worst, according to Town Manager Judson Rex. The stream that runs north-south between Cardinal and Taylor streets flooded and washed out Ash and West King streets, Rex stated in an email.

The main water and sewer lines that service the junction run along Ash Street. The road collapse caused the sewer line to break, according to Rex. Wastewater is being pumped around the area to maintain the flow of the sewer to the treatment plant.

Staff with the Department of Public Works cleaned up the sites in preparation for permanent repairs, according to Rex. The town plans to replace the existing culverts with larger ones to help prevent future flooding, Rex said.

Ash and West King Street remained closed as of Tuesday afternoon.

The town lost power to two of its water-boost pump stations, but electricity was later restored and tank levels remained high during the incident, according to Rex. The town also lost power at four sewer pump stations and used generators as back-up.

New Market Town Manager Evan Vass said Tuesday morning he had not heard of any residents who remained without power. Likewise, the storm did not affect the town's water treatment plant. Winds caused minimal damage and rainfall amounts did not cause any town streets to flood, according to Vass. He indicated the southern end of Shenandoah County did not experience some of the same storm-related problems as those seen in the north.

A section of Woodstock lost power overnight, according to Town Manager Larry Bradford. The town had to close seven roads as a result of high water, but reopened later that day, Bradford said. Crews pumped water from a sinkhole on West Locust Street.

Front Royal received rain and wind, but not to the extent that it disrupted service, according to Town Manager Steven Burke.

"Thankfully the storm bypassed the town," Burke said.

Front Royal, between its water and wastewater treatment facilities, received 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 inches of rain. Trees and limbs fell across the town as a result of the wind, but crews worked to clear debris from the roads, Burke said. The town reported all customers had power Tuesday morning.

A tree knocked down by the storm knocked out power to a few customers of the town's power service, according to Burke. The town experienced a disruption in power service in the south side that affected approximately 700 Rappahannock Electric Cooperative customers for about an hour, Burke recalled.

Front Royal crews closed 8th Street for part of the day at Happy Creek where water had risen over the bridge, according to Burke. The town had not experienced any breaks in its water system. However, Front Royal reported damage to its sanitary sewer system along Crooked Run in Warren County and crews suspected tree debris damaged one or more manhole covers, which allowed creek water into the system, Burke said.

Stephens City remained primarily "unscathed" by the storm, according to Town Manager Mike Kehoe. Superstorm Sandy left a section of town without power, but electricity was restored later Tuesday morning. Crews cleared tree debris from roads. The town opened the yard waste collection center for property owners who need to dispose of debris. Kehoe noted that some fallen tree limbs may have caused damage to a cemetery in town.

Stephens City's sewer lines took a high amount of rain from the storm, according to Kehoe. But the storm did not affect drinking water service to town residents, Kehoe said.

By comparison, Kehoe said he thought the derecho made a bigger impact on Stephens City. Vass commented that while he wouldn't compare Sandy to the derecho, he recalled the earlier storm left the town without power and water service for about 60 hours.

Media outlets and forecasters provided little meteorological information about the derecho in the hours leading up to the storm's approach, Aulgur commented. In the case of Sandy, the utility had several days to prepare and coordinate restoration efforts.

"This has made a significant difference in our ability to respond to the outages we face," Aulgur said.

SVEC also implemented a vegetation management program which helped power restoration in that fewer rights-of-ways contain large amounts of overgrowth, according to Aulgur. The spokesman also credited the derecho with clearing many of the dead trees and branches from the rights-of-ways.

"Lastly, I do not want to discount the work our men and women have done in the field ... they are the ones making the most difference out there," Aulgur stated. "All of these things, together, have assisted us in restoring service to our members."

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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