Power outage sweeps across region
by Sabine Gibbins
Life in Meadow Lake and the surrounding area came to a standstill last week when a major power outage struck the region.
According to Environment Canada meteorologist John Paul Cragg, a severe storm south of the city – which resulted insevere damage to SaskPower transmission and distribution systems in the Prince Albert, Meadow Lake, and North Battleford areas – is to blame for the blackout, which began around 9:45 p.m. June 25 and lasted close to 17 hours.
Locally, power began to be restored to parts of the city shortly after 3 p.m. June 26.
“Things should be back to normal by now,” remarked Tyler Hopson, media relations advisor with SaskPower, shortly after the lights came back on.
Although this power outage did last longer than usual, there was much concern throughout the city that the power could remain out for anywhere from 24 hours to more than a few days. While this proved to be untrue, the outage still had a tremendous impact on the Meadow Lake community.
Elementary school students were sent home early while annual awards assemblies were postponed. Meanwhile, most businesses remained closed for the day. One that did remain open was the Subway restaurant on 9th Street West.
Owner Yvonne Vongrad said the restaurant made use of its generator, and has always been prepared in case of emergencies.
“We’ve had the generator for about three or four years now,” she said. “The customers all know by now, we have one ready when the power goes out.”
Customer Colette Turberfield and her fellow Co-op employees were among those in the long lineup at Subway Tuesday morning. She said it was solely because the power was out that she was in line for breakfast.
At city hall, interim city manager Richard Levesque said, if the power were to remain out for an extended period, the worst-case scenario could involve the city’s water supply running dry.
“As soon as the rain starts again, it could cause a big sewer back-up,” he said.
Fire chief Neil Marsh said the outage was certainly a concern for the fire department.
“One issue is the lack of water,” he said. “It’s hard to fight fire without water, unless you’re close to a water source like a pond, but then we would need to haul it in. When there is no water in the water tower, it’s a matter of finding another source.”
Rancher Bob McIntyre, of the St. Cyr district, explained the power outage doesn’t necessarily affect him too much, but said there would be concern if the water was depleted.
“Basically, as far as ranching operations go, it doesn’t bother the cows too much,” he commented. “But, anybody who needs water for their cattle for any reason is going to be in trouble.”
Lionel Chabot, VP of finance and operations with the Prairie North Regional Health Authority, said the hospitals in Meadow Lake and North Battleford immediately set up an instant command centre when the power outage hit.
“We’re in the same boat as everybody else,” Chabot said during the blackout. “We have people in charge of logistics, and we’ll plan for a worst-case scenario if they think it’s going to be longer than 24 hours. We think about short-term and long-term solutions for our patients. So, there is a certain level of complexity involved. I think we’re managing well so far. We are weathering the storm. It could very well go longer than 24 hours, so we have to be prepared.”
When a situation like this occurs, patient care and safety, as well as public safety, is paramount, Chabot added.
The Meadow Lake Associate Clinic was also closed during the outage.
As soon as he heard the city could be running out of water, Northwest School Division chief financial officer Greg Gerwing saw it as the number one issue.
“If there is no water or if there is sewer trouble, then schools are closed,” he said.
As far as final exams (at Carpenter High School), all students were required to write them, regardless, Gerwing added.
Parents of elementary school age children were contacted before their children were sent home from school to also ensure the students’ safety.
“We haven’t had anything of this magnitude before,” Gerwing said. “But, we do have a plan.”
For the first time in a long time, no white clouds could be seen coming from Meadow Lake Mechanical Pulp Inc., where most workers were sent home for the day because, without electricity or water, none of the machinery could be used.
“How long we’ll be out of production depends on how long the outage lasts,” said Simon Imray, general manager of the pulp mill, when interviewed Tuesday morning. “We’ve been down 11 hours now, and because we’ve been down that long, we’ll have to restart the whole system – which will take a long time to restart.”
There was some work ongoing on the grounds of the mill, but without the ability to access computers, incoming trucks had to be weighed manually.
Peter Meier, manager of the Co-op gas station, spent much of the day apologizing to people who came rolling into the station.
“A lot of our customers are upset because they don’t realize or understand you need electricity to run pumps,” Meier said. “We are 100 per cent out of business. Everything relies on electricity here. These are sales we can’t really get back. We make thousands of dollars a day… that’s just gone.”