Day one of Sandy brings power outages, school closures to Southern Vermont
Staff Reports | October 30,2012
As expected, many in Southern Vermont lost power due to Hurricane Sandy on Monday. But those outages seemed to be primarily in the western part of the state, and most emergency responders continued to stand by early Monday evening.
Emergency shelters were opened in Winhall and Wilmington, two of the towns that saw large numbers of customers lose power.
Route 9 was closed to traffic around 7 p.m. due to power lines down in the road near the Molly Stark Motel just west of Brattleboro.
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon was built to withstand tornadoes, so Entergy Nuclear officials said they were prepared. With power outages the biggest threat in Vermont, the loss of electricity — ironic for a power plant — was also Yankee’s biggest threat.
Entergy spokesman Robert Williams said Vermont Yankee was well prepared to cope with a loss of electricity, a so-called “station blackout.”
The plant has enough diesel fuel on hand to keep the generators running for a week; two large diesel generators would provide emergency power to keep key equipment running and to cool it as the plant shuts down, Williams said Monday.
And until the end of the year, Yankee also has a direct line to the nearby Vernon hydroelectric station, to provide emergency power.
Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said that the emergency generators kick in automatically, which allow nuclear reactors to trigger safety systems and cool the reactor safely.
Williams said Entergy officials had topped off the diesel tanks as a precaution.
Most schools in Bennington County closed or let students out early Monday. The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, which oversees schools in Bennington, North Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury and Woodford, announced Monday that school would also be closed today. No decision had been made about a number of the schools in the northern part of the county, including the schools of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union and Burr and Burton Academy.
In Manchester, Town Manager John O’Keefe said the town had opened its emergency operations center, but hadn’t seen any major problems on Monday around 4:30 p.m.
Lt. Lloyd Dean of the Bennington Police Department had a similar report. However, he added that he hoped people would stay off of the roads as much as possible to make it easier for police, fire, rescue and power company workers to respond to emergencies.
Over the days leading up to Sandy, there were a number of people in the Bennington area who expressed concern about the temporary bridge on Route 9 in Woodford. During Tropical Storm Irene, the bridge collapsed, which left Woodford largely isolated from services and stores.
However, the bridge seemed to be in good shape as of early Monday evening and the river waters, which had caused the bridge to fall last year, were still low.
Keith Squires, chairman of the Select Board in Arlington, said the town held an organizational meeting Sunday to be prepared for Sandy. Arlington was hard hit by Irene and saw serious damage to one of its covered bridges that crosses the Batten Kill. Like the leaders in many other towns, Squires said the town and emergency responders were ready but would “just have to deal with (trouble) when it happens.”
Up and down the Connecticut River, town officials said they were prepared as much as they were going to be for a storm some have dubbed “the Frankenstorm.”
In Springfield, Town Manager Robert Forguites said he thought the town was ready after department heads met Friday and Monday morning.
Springfield Assistant Fire Chief Scott Richardson said the fire department was staffing heavily for the overnight hours Monday and Tuesday to cope with emergencies — whether fire or ambulance calls, or even just human services calls.
“We’re here for people in need, we’re here for the public, to assist the elderly and make sure they’re OK,” the deputy chief said.
The Springfield Fire Department has an ‘at-needs’ registry, he said. “We’ll call people, if there’s no power, and go out and assist them and make sure they’re okay,” he said.
Forecasters continue to expect the largest problem from Sandy in Vermont will be heavy winds and not flooding.
Chester Town Manager David Pisha said he wasn’t expecting the Williams River to flood, as it had last year, but the town still has placed generators at the town garage and town hall. The fire department was expected to stay on alert overnight.
“They’re not waiting to be called in like Irene,” Pisha said. “They’re trying to be proactive and get to places ahead of time.”
Chester was one of several towns urging parents to delay Halloween activities until Nov. 7 in order to give emergency crews a change to work on anticipated damage without having to worry about children in the road.
At a special staff meeting in Ludlow, Town Manager Frank Heald and Ron Bixby, the town’s emergency coordinator, and other department heads determined they did not need to open emergency facilities. Both Heald and Bixby noted high winds were projected for the west side of the Green Mountains and rainfall was expected to be much less than it was during Irene.
Springfield, which was largely spared damage during Tropical Storm Irene thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Springfield flood control dam, is better prepared for Sandy, said Town Manager Robert Forguites, noting Irene hit during the weekend.
Forguites said there were no plans to close the town hall offices on Tuesday.
“I’ll be here, if I can get here,” said the North Springfield resident. “Someone has to answer the phone.”
In Bellows Falls, Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen said things were ready.
“Town crews have been out since Friday, clearing culvert and storm drains,” he said.
Crews are also ready with chain saws for any fallen trees across Rockingham’s many roads.
Crews worked over the weekend on the new Bartonsville Covered Bridge, which is being built to replace the town’s biggest casualty during Irene, Cullenen said. Crews were even at work Monday.
He said the only concession to Sandy on Monday night was closing the Bellows Falls Opera House theater.
The show? “Frankenweenie,” said Cullenen.