Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ketchum gauges blackout readiness

City says it needs safe haven

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay knows firsthand how "despicable" the Christmas blackout was, having spent the holiday at City Hall fielding residents' questions.

And he vows to make changes for the next outage.

"There's a lot of things we didn't do and need to do," he said at a council meeting on Monday, Jan. 4, mentioning that Councilman Curtis Kemp also sat in City Hall during the holiday for worried residents.

Gourlay said an extended winter outage like this is the "worst emergency that can happen."

"Needless to say, we weren't very well prepared," he said.

Idaho Power said the outage began at about 10 p.m. on Dec. 24 after one of the two lines leading into the valley failed due to ice, extreme cold temperatures and high power. The second line failed as well less than half an hour later.

Power was out for the entire Wood River Valley from Sun Valley to Shoshone, with most people's power restored sometime Christmas afternoon and the remaining customers' power restored at 1 a.m. on Dec. 26.

Power is transported to the county by way of two 138,000-volt lines that merge at Hailey. One is the Midpoint-Wood River line, which starts near Shoshone and reaches Hailey from the southeast. The other is the King-Wood River line starting near Hagerman, 80 miles southwest of Hailey. From Hailey to Ketchum, only one line feeds the north valley.

Gourlay recommended buying a generator to power the Wood River Community YMCA or a local school during an outage.

"That way, if it lasted longer than 24 hours, people could have a place to stay warm and eat," he said.

The price of such a generator is uncertain, but Pioneer Saloon owner Duffy Witmer said the truck-sized generator for his business cost $65,000. And the saloon is much smaller than the YMCA or a school.

Mayor Randy Hall said the outage "was a lot to learn from."

"In the 30 years I've been here, it was the most significant power outage," he said, "and was a wake-up call."

He said City Hall's generator failed Christmas Day.

Trevon Milliard:

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