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Local electric crews help turn on lights on Long Island

November 10, 2012

LAKE PLACID - Municipal electric crews from Tupper Lake and Lake Placid have ventured to Long Island to help restore power to the hundreds of thousands of people in the dark in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

A three-man crew from Tupper Lake - Marc Staves, Carl Larson and Mike Dominie - met up with a crew from Lake Placid - Kimball Daby, Joe Wilmot and Sparky Baillargeon - and they convoyed down to Long Island early Saturday, Nov. 3.

Both Lake Placid and Tupper Lake belong to the Municipal Electric Utilities Association of New York State, Lake Placid village Mayor Craig Randall told the News. He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the association if municipalities could provide help to storm-ravaged communities, and as a result of that request, Lake Placid and Tupper Lake sent teams downstate.

"The information they're sending back is that it's tough conditions down there. In addition to the devastation, there's a shortage of materials. They're really being challenged."

The Placid and Tupper crews are working together with a group of people from Michigan with a company called Harlan Electric. The whole group is based at a substation in Greenlawn, near Long Island's north shore in Suffolk County.

Staves spoke to the Enterprise over the phone Monday.

"We've been accomplishing quite a lot in the last couple of days," Staves said. "We all work well together."

The first day they were there, they worked 21 hours. After that, they're working 16-hour days with eight hours of rest. On Sunday, they got power going to a water pump station, and on Monday they restored power in residential neighborhoods.

When they repaired a main line that gave about 1,000 people power Monday afternoon, the people who lived there were grateful and relieved after being in the dark for a week. Many have expressed gratitude that crews are coming long distances to help get their power on, Staves said.

"They were literally out in the street, clapping and hooting and hollering for us," Staves said.

Nighttime temperatures there are getting down into the high 30s these days, making it cold to stay in a home without heat, Staves said.

Each morning, the crews get up at 6 a.m. and head to the substation in Greenlawn to get orders. Then they head to work on their assignments for that day.

"Everybody's working extremely hard down here, and we're doing the best we can," Staves said. "We've got a pretty good mess down here."

As Staves spoke to the News Monday afternoon, he was sitting in a truck and could see in his rearview mirror a downed pole lying across a car in a residential neighborhood.

"It's been there for a week, and there's probably scores of others," Staves said.

Most of the destruction in the area where they are is oak trees and electric poles that were knocked down by winds and rain. They found a transformer down in a backyard Monday, which Staves said would take some time to fix.

The Lake Placid crew brought a bucket truck and a digger derrick, and the Tupper Lake crew brought a bucket truck and a pickup truck, which has been helpful for running errands, Staves said.

Each man brought a big bag of clothes and their everyday tools, but they didn't bother with bringing hardware, since it wouldn't fit the systems there.

The first night they were on Long Island, they stayed at a Boy Scout camp where there was little heat or water, and they had to sleep on metal cots. After that, though, they found a condo to stay at in Southold, near the eastern tip of Long Island. The only problem with that is it's an hour-and-a-half commute each way when they're already working long days.

The condos are filled with electric workers. Staves said there are about 75 bucket trucks in the parking lot, and they all roll out at the same time in the morning. It starts to resemble a military operation, he said.

"There are crews from all over the United States here right now," Staves said. "The logistics of it are staggering. You're moving and mobilizing thousands of people every day in different directions."

Gas shortages are becoming a problem for much of Long Island, and other areas hit hard by Sandy. According to a Saturday Huffington Post story, two drivers waiting for gas in Greenlawn wrestled for five minutes before bystanders intervened. Staves said they worked in one area Monday near a gas station that had a three-quarter-mile line of cars waiting for gas for most of the day, and they've seen stations cordoned off with tape because they are out of fuel.

The electric crews helping out on the island are being supplied with fuel by National Grid, so they don't have to waste time waiting in long lines and can spend their days working on the power grid.

Staves said they were sent down on orders for seven to 10 days, but he said he's hoping they can return home sooner. Now that everyone is getting into a routine, power is being restored quickly across the vast island. On Sunday, there were about 400,000 people without power, and Staves said he heard Monday evening that there were 290,000.

His brother Matt, who lives in St. Louis and works for a tree service business, is also on Long Island helping to move downed trees. Staves said they haven't met up yet, but he hopes to before he heads back to Tupper Lake.

There was one moment of coincidence when the Tupper Lake crew was working in one neighborhood and a woman approached them and said, "I can't believe what I'm seeing. You guys are from Tupper Lake. My parents just went up there to get away from this." The woman was the sister-in-law of Tupper Laker Pete Littlefield.

"How about that for being a small world?" Staves said.

Local leaders said they wanted to send the crews down to help out because the Tri-Lakes have gotten help from other areas in the past.

Randall said volunteers from across the state helped his community after the ice storm of 1998, so he and Lake Placid Municipal Electric Department Superintendent Peter Kroha felt that returning the favor was a no-brainer.

"It's wonderful to be able to pull on and rely on resources in areas that weren't damaged by the storm when they're having so much trouble putting things together," Randall said.

Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun agreed.

"When we had problems up here with the storms (last year), crews from all over the state came up here," Maroun said. "We thought that as a gesture of goodwill ... that we should do that for them."

Maroun noted that the one question he's been getting from taxpayers is whether the trip will cost the village anything, but he said all the costs will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He said people staying home with all the area municipal electric agencies, like Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and Massena, are ready to help one another out if there is a problem at home.



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