March ice storm cripples parts of county

ANCRAM–Old Man Winter and his evil cousin, the Iceman, conspired to produce a storm that started off as rain then turned into heavy frozen precipitation that plastered trees, power lines and every blade of grass overnight Sunday, March 6 into Monday, March 7.

The resulting weighty ice encasement brought down power poles and lines, snapped off tree limbs and cut electricity to thousands of Columbia County residents, most in the southeastern portion.

States of Emergency were declared in Ancram and Copake. A Red Cross shelter was set up at the Taconic Hills Central School and later moved to the building at Copake Memorial Park. Warming centers were established at many local firehouses and town halls and dry ice was being distributed.

Columbia County 911 Dispatcher Richard Lindmark told The Columbia Paper that from 7 p.m. Sunday to 2 p.m. Wednesday, the control center dispatched 192 calls from people with water problems and 74 calls reporting electrical wires down.

The highest concentration of calls came from the Craryville, Copake and Ancram areas, though every fire department in the county was called out at least once during the three-day period.

Mr. Lindmark said the total number of distress calls was likely much higher because many residents called their local firehouses directly to seek assistance.

State Route 66 was one of many roads around the county closed due to flooding. Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Jim Andrews said creeks overflowed their banks in the vicinity of Tipple Road and Dutch Village.

Except for a sliver down the west side and a strip across the bottom, New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) provides electrical service to most of Columbia County. NYSEG Spokesman Clay Ellis said Wednesday afternoon that 9,000 customers in NYSEG’s Mechanicville Division (Washington, Rensselaer, Columbia and Saratoga counties) were affected by ice storm outages. The majority of customers–5,000 were in Columbia County.

About 3,000 of those customers were still out as of Wednesday afternoon. “We’re still hoping to get a number of them on today,” he said.

“Problems in Columbia County were devastating with ice and snow and flooding, making it a tremendous challenge to get our network put back together,” said Mr. Ellis, noting there was up to an inch of ice in some places. “When you get that much ice you have very serious problems.”

The ice load on wires and trees lying on the wires added weight that broke poles, each of which requires hours to replace under these conditions.

“Ice is something we fear the most,” Mr. Ellis said. Crews were called in from elsewhere in the state as well as from NYSEG’s sister company–Rochester Gas and Electric. Over 100 two-person crews were at work on the restoration, he said.

The Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company serves Ancram and Gallatin in Columbia County. At the height of the storm, “nearly all of our customers in those townships were impacted by the ice storm: 1,099 in Ancram and 415 in Gallatin,” Central Hudson Spokesman John Maserjian said by email Wednesday afternoon.

“Currently, 330 outages are reported in Ancram and 201 in Gallatin, and we expect service to be restored to the vast majority of these customers by tonight. We expect to continue working in southern Columbia and northeastern Dutchess through Thursday to address single cases and outages in outlying areas,” he said in the email.

National Grid Spokesman Patrick Stella said 21,000 customers in its eastern New York region were without electricity from Albany to Hudson. Ice up to a quarter-inch thick broke branches that fell on wires. Monday morning the biggest challenge was trying to travel. He said the roads were bad, making it slow-going to get to the areas where repairs were needed. With 350 line and tree crews, one to four people per crew, on the job, by Tuesday night, 95% of National Grid customers had their power restored, with about 100 outages remaining in Rensselaer County.

Highway crews faced multiple tasks in trying to clear roadways Monday and Tuesday.

In Copake, points west of Center Hill Road like Copake Lake and Pumpkin Hollow were “really bad,” according to Town Highway Chief Bill Gregory.

He explained that highway crews started plowing and sanding a road, then would come upon a tree or branch down and would have to stop, get out with a chain saw and remove the tree from the road.

The situation was complicated when an electrical wire was tangled in the mix. “We had no way of knowing which wires were energized. Probably 99% of the lines were dead, but you can’t assume that,” said Mr. Gregory, noting that crews had to turn around and try another route.

“If we learn anything from this storm, I hope it is that we need better coordination with the power company,” he said.

After Mr. Gregory met up with a power company crew working over at the lake and was able to find out that they had pulled the fuses on the whole area, he and his crews could work around the wires with confidence.

In many cases, crews used a backhoe to push downed trees out of the road. A tremendous number of trees are lying along the roadside. “We’re going to be cleaning up this storm for a long time,” said Mr. Gregory.

In an email from Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin late Wednesday, the supervisor said Central Hudson reported that about 300 Ancram customers were still without power as of 4 p.m. He said power was scheduled to come back on for residents of Boston Corners, Carson Road, Winchell Mountain and Hall Hill Road between 8 and 11 p.m. Wednesday night.

“Branches are still coming off trees and taking wires down, causing ‘new’ outages. This could continue for the next few days as we experience more snow and heavy rain, so if your power comes on for while, but then goes off, call Central Hudson and report it as a new outage,” the supervisor said.

Copake Supervisor Reggie Crowley said by email after completing a conference call with NYSEG that as of 1:50 p.m. Wednesday there were still 1,590 customers out in Copake, with the bulk of the damage in the Copake Lake/Craryville area. “Because of significant structural damage to poles and lines the power to this area may not be on until Friday. Other areas of the town hopefully should see electric by midnight tonight,” he said. People who need a ride to the park building shelter should call (518) 828-1212.

Another storm is reportedly moving in Thursday morning.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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