BANGOR — The sleet and freezing rain predicted for the weekend could put the kibosh on Central Maine Power Co.’s cleanup efforts from the last ice storm.
CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said Friday that 1,020 customers were still without power in Augusta, Bridgton, Lewiston and Rockland-Belfast, and that although workers had hoped to have them back on this weekend, “now, we’re concerned about more outages.”
CMP officials said there was no way to predict whether those still without power would take priority in the event of a new storm.
“We are aware that some folks are still out there who have been off line for sometime,” said Clark Irwin, “but if there’s damage to transmission lines or distribution circuits, those will need to be repaired first.
“When all circuits are clear, individual work orders will be processed, but the first priority is to hospitals, shelters, nursing homes, police and fire,” he said.
Steps have been taken in anticipation of the worst, according to Irwin. Line crews were scheduled to report to work “as if it’s a weekday,” and 100 out-of-state crews have been asked to remain. Also, CMP has made contingency plans to call upon other utilities and is maintaining contact with state agencies made possible by Gov. Angus King’s proclamation of a state of emergency.
Officials from Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. and the Red Cross said Friday they too were back on a state of alert.
“We’re prepared to mobilize,” said Bangor Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen. “We’ve asked everyone to be around and to be available, our backup power systems have been checked again, and if [the storm] hits us, we’ll go into our updated storm restoration plan.”
Meanwhile, Pam Daigle, chapter manager for Bangor’s Red Cross, said the emergency shelter at Bangor’s Air National Guard base “is on standby and can be open in half an hour if necessary.”
“We’re all sort of poised,” Daigle said. “We understand that people are skittish from the last storm and we want to increase their comfort level if nothing else. But this sounds like the typical winter storm.”
A spokesman from the National Weather Service said Friday afternoon that snow was expected to mix with and change to sleet and freezing rain in the northern part of the state today, with patchy light rain and drizzle in southern sections.
Meanwhile, Cohen said that Bangor Hydro’s repairing of 8 miles of transmission lines knocked out in the Deblois area by last week’s ice storm “is moving along really well,” and is scheduled for completion sometime in late February.
He said two-thirds of the poles have been put in the ground, that the hardware is on the first 6,000 feet of poles and that workers were to string wire Friday.
The anticipated storm had the 307 Maine National Guardsmen still on active duty, working with the Department of Transportation “trying to replenish sand for the towns,” according to Maj. John McKenney.
“That’s our big mission right now,” said McKenney Friday.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said jubilantly Friday that 9,897 residents had called so far for relief registrations.
“We love to hear this,” said Wendy Meador. “That means people are out there getting the message that they may be able to get help.
“We don’t guarantee that everyone who calls will be able to get something, but they’ll never know unless they call,” she said. “They could get $300 to $400 for something they never thought they could get reimbursed for.”
Meanwhile, The Salvation Army reported that more than $212,000 worth of Salvation Army vouchers have been given to residents so they can replace lost food and buy wood.
Officials are still discussing how to pay for the maintenance bill associated with the ice storm cleanup.
David Flanagan, president of CMP, said he went to Washington earlier this week to meet with federal officials and Maine’s congressional delegation to find government help with the $55 million cost of the repairs. Bangor Hydro faces $5 million worth of repair bills.
If such aid is not forthcoming, the cost could be passed on to the utilities’ customers.
“I think it’s an amount that’s very substantial,” Flanagan said. “It’s substantial because of the emergency nature of trying to get the power back on as quickly as we could in the depths of winter and it’s a cost that we’re certainly not in a position to absorb.”
However, the utility executive said he was “cautiously optimistic” the federal government would help, especially since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized aid for a private utility affected by last year’s flooding in North Dakota.
John Fallona, general manager of transmission and distribution at CMP, defended his company’s maintenance record, saying the utility sets about 8,000 new poles a year. The utility has a network of more than 500,000 poles, spokesman Clark Irwin said.
“The majority of the poles we lost had nothing really to do with age,” Fallona said. “It really had to do with the ice conditions in the area and the weight of the ice of the tree that fell on them and their ability to hold that.”
CMP has an 11,000-square-mile service area, including the Portland and Lewiston-Auburn metro areas and nearly 80 percent of Maine’s population.