MADAWASKA — The St. John Valley has been getting ready for the millennium bug for much of the last 18 months, and contingency plans are in place for possible emergencies.
While not anticipating any problems, the towns of Fort Kent and Madawaska have plans in place to house and feed people, should an emergency situation occur.
“We’ve been assured that everything will work come 12:01 a.m. on January 1,” Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond said Wednesday afternoon. “We have several buildings with generators, and we would be able to help people.”
The municipal building at Fort Kent has a generator in place for backup electricity. The building also houses the Police Department and emergency dispatcher.
“No one is off, and we will have three police officers on duty at midnight,” Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth Michaud said Wednesday. “The officers who are not actually on duty are on call.
“We are not expecting anything, but we are getting ready for emergencies,” Michaud said. “If anything happens, they [local people] can come to the town office to keep warm.”
Along with the generator at the municipal building, the town’s water and sewer departments also have backup power available to operate those municipal services.
“We have power generating facilities at the hospital, the nursing home and at the outpatient center in Madawaska,” Peter Sirois, assistant administrator for the Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, said Wednesday. “We’ve gone through all our contingency plans, and everything will be operational.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed, but we are not anticipating any problems,” Sirois said.
The medical facility has upgraded all its computer equipment and gone through its contingency plans, including getting assurances from suppliers and vendors on readiness.
NMMC also operates the Forest Hill Manor Nursing Home at Fort Kent and the Madawaska Outpatient Center, and those facilities have also been readied, Sirois said.
“We feel we are ready for the new year,” Sirois said. “We have talked with town officials, and we’ve never turned anyone back, if people need shelter.”
At the University of Maine at Fort Kent, power generating equipment has been installed in the campus gymnasium and at Nowland Hall, the campus food service building.
In Madawaska, all police officers will be working, and the town has leased a huge generator that can be hooked up at the town’s elementary school for shelter and food services, if the need arises.
Town Manager Arthur Faucher said department heads will congregate on New Year’s Eve at the Madawaska Safety Complex to test systems. The safety complex and the town’s waste water system have emergency backup power if needed to operate essential services.
“We can be up and going in a very short time,” Faucher said Wednesday afternoon.
“We will be out with four officers, doubling up in each car, and just hoping for the best,” Madawaska Police Chief Ronald Pelletier said. “We are taking our precautions, and we will be ready, if anything happens.”
It is much the same with the Maine State Police in Aroostook County. Patrols will be doubled on New Year’s Eve, with 14 troopers on patrol. Extra staff will be working the Troop F barracks at Houlton, and the state police have a statewide command post in Augusta.
“We will be beefing up patrols,” Lt. Barry Smith, state police commander at Houlton, said Wednesday. “Panic may be the biggest problem, but we don’t look to have anything serious happening.”
Like other law enforcement agencies, the Houlton barracks has a backup generator for power.
The St. John Valley’s largest employer, Fraser Paper at Madawaska, will operate as usual.
More than 200 employees will be in the Madawaska mill through the weekend. Information systems will be monitored through the weekend period.
“We expect no problems in our operation,” Richard Marston, manager of human resources, said Wednesday. “We have been preparing for 18 months, and we will be running normal operations.”
Like most of Aroostook County, the major power source at Fraser comes from New Brunswick, which operates an hour ahead of the United States. The critical time for Fraser will be at 11 p.m., or midnight in New Brunswick.
“We will know at 11 p.m.,” Marston said.