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MED customers remain in power; officials say 2013 vs. 1998 ice storm is no comparison


Despite the intense storm that saw thousands across St. Lawrence County lose power, the Massena Electric Department reported that none of its customers went dark.

“We were on edge. We had a lot of communication discussing the weather, but ultimately it was very quiet. Nobody lost power,” MED Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon said. “There were some calls for low lines and trees on wires. They have all been addressed.”

Thousands of National Grid customers in the county, especially in the south half, lost power. As of early evening Monday, about 5,000 customers awaited restoration.

St. Lawrence County last saw an ice storm of this magnitude in January 1998. The Red Cross opened its Emergency Operation Center at 1 p.m. Sunday for the first time since that storm.

While thousands are still recovering from the 2013 performance of “St. Lawrence County On Ice,” Mr. McMahon said that this storm, particularly in Massena, was not comparable.

“It does not compare. In 1998 we were hit by the storm. As I recall, the storm whacked us for four or five days and was largely freezing rain. At one point or another all of our customers were impacted by the ‘98 storm,” Mr. McMahon said. “Our incoming supply was knocked out for some time and trees and branches were strained by over inches of ice. This time, we had ice pellets that were not sticking to our lines the way freezing rain does, so I guess we had a quarter to half of an inch.”

National Weather Service meteorologist William Hanley reported that Potsdam accumulated 1 inches of ice as of Sunday afternoon. Mr. Hanley also reported 1 inch in Gouverneur Sunday morning, half an inch in Ogdensburg Sunday morning, and half an inch in Parishville Saturday night.

Mr. McMahon noted that the 1998 storm had a lasting effect on MED.

“The staff at MED was scrambling for weeks after the ’98 storm even though the customers didn’t have much impact after the first couple days,” he said. “ ... We were also in regular contact with (Massena Police Chief) Timmy Currier, who does a great job leading the local response. He is well prepared, well organized and a great communicator. He does a great job of knowing when to react without overreacting.”

The superintendent added while snow and rain is always a hassle, nothing is worse than freezing rain.

“The more ice that is involved the more dangerous it is for us just to get around. From a system impact point of view freezing rain is about as bad as it gets,” he said. “This storm Saturday was more ice pellets, which were dangerous but did not adhere as much to our lines. We had some freezing rain Sunday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. it seems, but fortunately not enough to impact the system.”

tough time in colton

Other parts of the county were hit harder. In Colton on Monday, more than 600 residents of the municipality were still without power.

“We pretty much manned the station all night Saturday, all day Sunday, up until 1 a.m. Monday,” Fire Chief Bill Smith said. “Some of us live nearby so we were ready to go.”

Mr. Smith said South Colton got hit harder by the storm than did other parts of the town.

“Most of our work was clearing trees that were leaning over into the roads. We had to let the plows continue to do their job,” he said. “I’m very proud of the department and the job that they did and the town and county as a whole. The state as a whole put in hours upon hours. I think working as a team made it a lot better than it could have been. My hats go off to everyone involved.”

As of mid-afternoon Monday, 615 people in the town were still without power, according to St. Lawrence County Planning Office Grant Manager Heidi Ames.

That led to the opening of a warming center and shelter for the community at Colton-Pierrepont Central School at noon. The early hours were slow at the shelter. The opening was coordinated by Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash, Principal James Nee, interim Emergency Services Director Keith J. Zimmermanand County Administrator Karen St. Hilaire.

A warming center also opened at the Gouverneur High School at 9 a.m. Monday, while the Salvation Army served food and beverages to those at the center.

In Colton, nurses, mental health counselors and psychologists were on hand in the afternoon.

Mr. Nee and Mr. Kardash were outspoken in their praise of town and county officials efforts.

“I know our Colton fire department has done a great job going throughout the area, checking on residents to see how they were doing,” Mr. Nee said.

city had more sleet

In Ogdensburg, the city’s Department of Public Works was out in force laying down tons of sand and salt and attempting to keep up with the snow and ice as it fell.

“It was bad, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” public works Supervisor Gregg E. Harland said.

Because the city never lost power, Mr. Harland said snow removal crews were spared having to clear the streets in the dark.

And despite the layer of ice that clung to nearly everything in the city over the weekend Mr. Harland said even the ice wasn’t as damaging as in other parts of the county.

Ogdensburg was mostly hit with sleet, Mr. Harland said, and unlike freezing rain, sleet bounces off most surfaces before it gets a chance to cling on.

Mr. Harland said that helped prevent trees from being heavily damaged and made removing the ice buildup easier than if it had been a thicker covering.

Residents in the city were also a big help to the department as they largely kept off the roads during the storm, allowing snowplows to more easily clear roads, Mr. Harland said.

Good luck aside, Mr. Harland said all 23 public works employees were working 12-hour shifts throughout the storm —which lasted from Friday night until Sunday afternoon — to make sure the roads were clear.

“It kept coming and coming,” Mr. Harland said of the snow. “It was hard to stay ahead of it but we did.”

The final calculations have not been made, Mr. Harland said, but in addition to overtime worked by public works employees, the storm also racked up costs for the city due to the additional sand and salt used on the roads and the fuel it took to keep the trucks running.

“Now we’re working on snow removal,” Mr. Harland said, adding that they will begin with major intersections and crucial infrastructure like the roads around Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center, before moving to smaller side streets.

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