Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

October 6, 2016
Living in the epicenter

I’m confident that the readers of this article have a higher interest in, or are practicing “the hands-on” life at a higher percentage than the general population. This isn’t an indictment or negative comment, I’m simply putting light on the tendency of those who have a strong interest in ornamental and edible gardening to do a lot of things for themselves. After all, it’s tough to garden in isolation without any related interests.

Simply being able to plant beds, trees, or shrubs takes a level of preparation of planting sites, as well having some tools to do so. Associated implements tend to be acquired, along with the skills to effectively and enjoyably use an assortment of pruning, mowing, fertilizing and watering devices. So, we gardeners tend to lean on our own resourcefulness and efforts first when needed, and I found out that is especially a good trait.

Over the last few days, we had trying circumstances occur. That big power outage you heard about that was reported on the front page of Tuesday’s edition of the Transcript Bulletin? We are a part of that. Perhaps you were too, directly or indirectly. If you live in Lake Point, in the Pine Canyon area, northeast Erda or Stansbury Park, you were impacted by what happened.

If there are bragging rights to this sort of thing, our block got ’em! As you know, there were incredibly high winds in the valley on Sunday evening, particularly along the foothills and ridges in our area. We’ve had this type of thing before, but this one was certainly unsettling. The sound inside our house, as the gale assailed us in bursts, was, as they say, “like the sound of a freight train.” How ironic — in light of what happened just a short time later.

Sunday night, my grandson and I were enjoying a card game at the kitchen table when the lights flickered out, came back on for a second or two, and then darkness settled in. We sat there for a moment, with the hope that the lights would come on shortly and life would return to normal. That was not to be.

Shortly thereafter, the sights and sounds of emergency and service vehicles arriving up and down Bates Canyon Road, east of SR-36, told us that this was not a usual outage. Something big had to be going on — and it was. It quickly became apparent that we were in the epicenter of whatever had happened.

The metaphors of “perfect storm,” “trifecta” or “one-in-a-million chance” all fail in comparison to what transpired. Three things lined up perfectly, leading to a very poor outcome. To begin with, the winds were especially intense and channeled along the bench just east of our home — also where the railroad tracks are located. At the same place, main transmission lines leading to the substation on Bates Canyon Road cross the railroad tracks high overhead. As it turned out, a component of the span over the track failed in the wind and dropped across the railway.

Now, two unfavorable circumstances had happened, but the third was about to unfold. About that time, a freight train came through and encountered the downed power line. When you see those wires from the ground, way up on a main power pole, it’s easy to underestimate the diameter and weight of those cables. They are, well, impressive. Not only are they sizable enough to carry the amount of electrical current they do, but they need to support their own weight, carry extra weight when wet or when ice forms on them, as well as resist high winds. To do all that, they have multiple high-grade aluminum conductors wound around a core of high-tension cable.

As the train came through, it caught that cable and pulled it, setting off a chain reaction. When one pole goes down with tremendous sideways force, others are sure to follow — in a mind-boggling way! With that much weight and inertia, and a virtually unbreakable cable connecting pole to pole, something had to give. How about 27 80-foot poles? Yep — 27! They were snapped off at the base, splintered like so much kindling wood you’ve broken in two to start a campfire. The damage began east of the track, higher on the hill, and all the way west down Bates Canyon Road to the substation on the north side of the road. In addition, five smaller distribution poles were ruined as well.

That there wasn’t loss of life, human or animal, is remarkable. You see, not only did those massive objects crash down along the north side of the road, but so did all the cables attached to them, as well as the insulating hardware. There was tons of material literally falling from the sky — in one connected jumble.  The damage to property tended to be fences and trees. One of the team members from the utility company told me that if the transmission lines had fallen to the south, there would have been even more damage because of collisions with other main power cables. In his words, “We would have been here for weeks.”

For such a devastation, the speed at which power was restored is remarkable and a testament to a collective and heartfelt effort of the power company, their subcontractors, fire and law-enforcement agencies, preparedness groups, and plain outright community-minded individuals.  The original outage affected about 4,030 locations. The vast majority of those had their power restored by the following morning with 77 still out. Our subdivision had to wait because of the proximity of the damage. Even so, we had power back in less than 24 (somewhat long) hours.

When something like this happens, there’s lots to think about. This event was especially poignant in light of the fact that our neighbors Ken and Joyce just recently began a push for formalized community preparedness for disasters and service interruptions such as these. Some rudimentary communication methods had just been put into place and that helped! It was a good test and an even better reminder that having resources set aside and a plan in place is invaluable.

So, what did I learn? While we fared well during this brief inconvenience, we are actively working to be better prepared in the future. We had water stored, as well as lanterns and flashlights. Matches allowed us to light our stove and still cook. There are a couple of things that get consumed amazingly fast — water and cell phone batteries! Having water for cooking, drinking and what my momma used to call a “spit bath” is one thing, but having water to flush a toilet is another. Even with (ewwww!) “batching,” sanitary needs consume a surprising quantity of water. Did I tell you water is heavy? Well, it is.

Another important lesson is that community-based preparedness and cooperation trumps individuality every time. Sharing of resources, keeping an eye out for each other and offering courtesies during a time of trial are a very tangible benefit.

Oh, by the way, this still isn’t over. As I write this, the downed and de-energized cables are still on the ground, with the crews preparing to coil them up on massive spools and cart them away. And while all the new poles are erected, they still don’t have the new cables connected. The two main entrances to our subdivision are shut off. The alternative is to use the “back way” up Droubay Road into Lake Point via what seems to be a cattle trail (I’m only half joking…). A couple of clever and generous neighbors put in a temporary road that allows access to our area through the Adobe Rock quarry grounds. Hats off to them! While we still don’t have postal or delivery services (although our paper carrier faithfully delivered the Transcript-Bulletin!), that will come soon. If everything goes as hoped by our friends at Rocky Mountain Power (those people have been “rock stars” during this event), the trash removal trucks will be able to get in here come Thursday.

Thankfully, only “the usual” is in our trash receptacles. If the power had been out for several days, much of what is in our refrigerators and freezers may have ended up there. That’s a sobering thought and certainly has given me a push to work to be more deeply prepared.

I think I’ll go and flip a light switch up and down several times — just to see the light go on and off. About now, it’s a wonder all over again.

Jay Cooper can be contacted at jay@dirtfarmerjay.com, or you can visit youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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