Hydro works around the clock Christmas Day to get power on in North Burlington homes. “It’s a challenge” says the Mayor.

December 26, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  Christmas Day in a rural fire hall and hearing explained Gerry Smallegange, Burlington Hydro’s President and Chief Executive Officer explained that he was not yelling “ I just want to project my voice as far as I can.”  He was speaking to a group of about 75 people who had gathered in the Kilbride Fire Station waiting to learn when the lights might come on in their homes.

The crowd just wanted to know when the power was going to come back on.  No power, no water from the well, no water to flush toilets – it wasn’t a pretty picture.

At this point, day six in the power outage experience Burlington was having, there were less than 200 homes without power.

Smallegange’s fear was that there might be more if the weather conditions changed.  Smallegange isn’t the worrying kind of guy but he was in instant communication with the work crews who were out on the roads and the feedback was not promising.

Burlington Hydro CEO Gerry Smallegange and Dan Guatto, COO and Vice President take the crowd at the fire hall through a road by road description of the work that had to be done and when they hoped it would all be completed.

“The ice is this thick” explained Smallegange, as he held up his thumb and his forefinger almost as far apart as he could, and it isn’t melting.  And with the snow that is falling he added – there is going to be more weight on those ice-covered branches and they will break and fall – on top of those hydro wires we have put back up a few days ago.

It was an exhausting experience for the hydro people.  Foresters would go along a road and be followed by hydro people who would re-build a line and get the power moving.

Cedar Springs Road had sections that were impassable – just about every road in the city had piles of brush and broken branches along the sides of the road.

Along with the heavy equipment and very tired foresters and hydro teams there were dozens of photographers out taking pictures of the sheer beauty.  When the sun shone though those ice-covered trees one had the impression they were in a world made of glass with everything glistening in the sunshine

You wore what you needed to keep warm.

But it was not sunshine for the Kilbride area residents who asked how long they could leave their generator running before it blew up.  “What are you running off it” asked a city staffer?  A couple of lights and the sump pump.  You’re OK – but try and shut it down once a day and make sure there is plenty of oil in the machine.  I didn’t think I would be running it for that much longer was the response.

The 75+ people in the fire hall were brought to the location for a meeting to get an update on just where things were. Dan Guatto, Chief Operating Officer for Hydro had sheets of paper with road by road, address by address information – but as Smallegange added again and again – these are not promises – this information is what we think we can do.

The city has moved its  Emergency Operations Centre to the Kilbride fire hall that will be in place until all hydro in the area is restored. It is staffed with employees from Burlington Hydro and the City of Burlington.

Hydro staff will provide residents with details on the efforts they are taking to restore power as well as an estimate on when hydro will be restored to homes in that area.

Fire chief Tony Bavota handing out cards with direct line telephone numbers and ensuring that people got the help they needed. Bavota said he wasn’t going to worry about lines of authority – if they need help – Bavota did everything he could to get it to them.

There are currently 120 Burlington Hydro customers without power.

The anticipated restoration schedule from Burlington Hydro for the remaining  customers is:

 6683 Twiss Road, 5675 to 6583 Twiss Road – targeting late Thursday or Friday morning

No 8 Sideroad on the south side west of Twiss road – targeting Saturday but could go to Sunday/ Monday

All of Panton Road – Friday

Breckinridge court / McNiven Court – tonight / into tomorrow morning

McNiven Road – south of Kilbride road on Friday, north on Saturday

2465, 2365 Britannia, 3175 Britannia – targeting Saturday and Sunday

Millar Cres at Guelph Line to No. 1 Sideroad – targeting tonight.  All of Milborough Town Line – Friday

Britannia west of cedar springs over to Milborough town line – Friday / Saturday

Cedar Springs Road from Britannia south to No. 1 Sideroad – portions tomorrow but some pieces will take until next week (cedar springs community internal)

Blind Line south of Britannia to Colling Road and all of Colling Road – Sunday earliest

6059, 6101, 6150, 6202-0, 5089 Walkers Line – energizing in pieces tonight if there are no trees

 To ensure the safety and protection of homes Halton Regional Police have extra officers in north Burlington who have been proactively patrolling the area.

The city will continue to keep their two warming stations open for residents.

 Burlington Fire Station No. 5 –2241 Kilbride St., Burlington, provides a place to warm up, to get drinking water and to use washroom facilities.

 Haber Recreation Centre – 3040 Tim Dobbie Dr., Burlington, is set up as an overnight evacuation centre with warm beds and hot showers.

The city`s Emergency Coordinating Committee: From the left, Ward 3 Council member John Taylor – much of the damage was in his ward, Mayor Goldring, city manager Jeff Fielding, communications advisor Lee Oliver, Roads and Park Maintenance Director Cathy Robertson, General manager Scott Stewart and a nice guy from the Region who we cannot identify.

Adding to the power outage problems was the difficulty in getting information to people.  No telephone service and limited cell phone service in the area meant the city had to have people going door-to-door to let people know about the meetings.

City General Manager Scott Stewart led the parade for the city; fielding questions and making sure people got the answers they needed.

Residents were able to bring their cell phones  into the fire hall to re-charge them; they were able to pick up fresh water and get the latest information.

Volunteer fire fighters were going to man the Kilbride station 24×7 until power was back up.

What about fire response times asked a residents.  Fire chief Tony Bavota admitted that fire response time in the rural area were not as good as they are elsewhere in the city.  Bavota has re-arranged his staff and will have regular fire fighters in the Kilbride station during the day.

Smallegange tweets on the hour and the Mayor re-tweets but for those with cell phones that get low on power all the marvels of the electronic age don`t help.

Another problem that many people were not aware of is – who owns the line that is down?  Some of the lines are feeder lines and belong to the power authority – and that puts wrinkles in the repair work.

Smallegange explained that it can take 4 to 8 hours to rebuild a line on a rural property with a long lane and a lot of trees.

Mayor Rick Goldring was on hand to assure people that everything possible was being done. City manager Jeff Fielding stood by ready to back up every statement he Mayor made.

“Burlington loves its trees – and they are great” said Smallegange – “but at times like this – those old trees and their canopy are a real problem for us.”

City manager Jeff Fielding added that “we don’t know how to get to you guys”  which had the city sending people door to door.  The target was to have everyone with power by Saturday – but weather conditions were the unknown

“We need you to feed information to us – and that isn’t easy – there really wasn’t a one place – an information central if you will – that people could call.  Moving the EOC to the Kilbride fire hall was a help – that allows people to drive over, ask questions, pass along information, have cell phones charged and pick up fresh water.  It was in the process of becoming the community centre.

Councillors Lancaster and Taylor were on hand – but there really wasn`t much either of them could do – they both live south of Dundas and weren`t personally impacted.  What was clearly evident is the lack of political representation for the northern part of Burlington by people who actually live in those hills.

Hydro had 8 tree crews out on the road and explained that everyone wanted the foresters in their community. Milton is in worse condition than we are explained Smallegange, Oakville is in pretty good shape and Toronto has hydro crews in from Manitoba.

“When?”  was the question everyone was asking and when the response was “Could be Monday of next week”  a shudder and a shiver went through the room.There wasn’t a hydro worker involved in field operations who spent Christmas Day at home – everyone was in the field.  City General Manager Scott Stewart sheepishly admitted that he had not been home with his family for more than an hour or two.  The field crews got less than that.

Mayor Goldring was on hand explaining to people as well as he could what was being done and what just wasn’t possible.

It was a fluid situation – one at which every resource available was being put to use with an eye constantly being cast on the weather.  If the wind picks up” said Smallegange “much of the work we have done might well have to be done all over again.

Foresters worked around the clock – this picture was taken in the dead of night – brightened digitally to show the work being done.

Due to the geography and the way power feeder lines are set up there was a point where hydro crews had to go up over the Escarpment to access power.

No one uttered a word as to how much all this was going to cost.

At one point someone thanked Smallegange after a comment he made and the room burst into spontaneous applause.

“When?”  was the question everyone was asking and when the response was “Could be Monday of next week”  a shudder and a shiver went through the room.


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