‘I’m embarrassed about how ill-prepared we were’

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Region, residents need to be better better organized to face power outages: Marystown mayor

No one was ready. That’s Marystown Mayor Sam Synard’s take on this month’s power outage that initially saw nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in the province lose their electricity for more than 24 hours in many instances and a couple of days in some cases.

“We weren’t prepared as families, we weren’t prepared as a community, we weren’t prepared as a region and we weren’t prepared as a province,” Synard said.

The outage, which was preceded by rolling blackouts as a power conservation measure, was caused when a fire shut down Newfoundland and Labrador’s Hydro’s substation in Sunnyside.

That resulted in a trip at the Holyrood generating dtation.

Along with other parts of the province, the entire Burin Peninsula lost its power as a result of the incident.

Synard, who noted he’s sometimes blamed for being critical of government, said he’s just being factual in his assessment.

In particular, he said the region, as a whole, must be better prepared to handle such situations in the future, with Marystown stepping up to lead the way.

“I’m embarrassed about how ill-prepared we were, to tell you the truth,” he said of his own town.

One of the first steps the town has taken is to identify the Municipal Centre as a warm-up site in the event of prolonged power outages. The town has a 25,000-watt diesel generator  wired to the building.

Before next winter, Synard said the town plans to look for a bigger venue.

“I’ve been talking to several groups now that have larger buildings that might want to work with use to create that warm room.”

During the recent outage, the cafeteria at the Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre was turned into a makeshift location for residents in the area to drop by who were feeling the chill.

Synard said the lack of fuel stored on the Burin Peninsula is another issue.

He said Newfoundland Hydro has a diesel turbine in Grand Bank that can generate electricity for some 7,000 homes. It was fired up during the outage and works fine. However, the available gas on hand quickly ran out.

If there was a supply of fuel in the region, Synard said power could have been rotated around the Burin Peninsula every three or four hours to keep homes warm.

“We need an oil company to agree to stockpile fuel, and maybe the province or someone else might have to help support that initiative, maybe even municipalities.”

Synard said the old Ultramar depot on Bayview Street in Marystown, which is no longer in operation, still has four large holding tanks at the site. Two of those containers are still certified and can hold 1.6 million litres of fuel, he added.

Gasoline for vehicles, snow blowers and generators also ran dry in Marystown, Burin and Grand Bank during the outage due to the closure of the Burin Peninsula Highway.

Aside from those broader issues, Synard said individuals and families also weren’t ready to handle a prolonged period without electricity.

“I mean, having a flashlight without batteries, it’s not really a flashlight. I’m just amazed at the number of people who no longer have a plug-in telephone in their house in the event that the power goes. I’d say half of Marystown didn’t have any telephone connections because everybody now works off cordless phones.”

People called him up looking for information, he said, because they didn’t have a transistor radio that would work on batteries, while many homes had generators to provide power, but didn’t have any gasoline.

Synard said  people must have basic essentials on hand in case of emergency.

“Everybody got caught somewhat off guard. Nobody expected this to happen, and nobody expected the temperatures to be so cold while it happened. Losing your power in the summertime is an inconvenience. Losing your electricity when it’s minus 20 outside is downright dangerous.”


The Southern Gaztte

Organizations: Municipal Centre, Burin Peninsula Health Care Centre, Burin and Grand Bank

Geographic location: Marystown, Newfoundland and Labrador, Sunnyside Grand Bank Bayview Street Southern Gaztte

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Recent comments

  • C'mon
    January 16, 2014 - 06:54

    It wasn't lack of preparation that was the problem is that we weren't expecting an incompetent premier and an incompetent utility to both have such a level of failure in an easily avoidable 'non-existent crisis'. Had it been a big storm we were expecting we would have been much more prepared. The main issue was the storm we were expecting wasn't that bad so no one was worried. The cold? Well since when has cold caused NL to lose power? Again, not something anyone would worry about cause they've never had such incompetence running the province(and utilities) before. Now the real questions. Who is responsible for this mess, and how are they going to be held responsible? Why the RNC isn't investigating this I'll never understand...