Sullivan County Deputy Manager Dan Depew briefs legislators on March 8, about the two snowstorms that hit the county. 

Aftermath of two Sullivan storms

MONTICELLO, NY — The blizzard that dumped a foot of snow on March 2, followed by another storm five days later, had county, town and village officials scrambling for at least a week to limit the damage, and get things back to normal .

Sullivan County Deputy Manager Dan Depew on March 8 gave the county legislature a detailed sketch of county actions in response.

Depew noted that one of the wind-reading devices at the Eldred School District measured a 109-mile an hour gust that blew through that area.

Power went out on the first day of the blizzard in many areas and knocked out power to the government center, the Adult Care Center (ACC) and the Sullivan County Jail.  The jail and ACC were running on generators, so the focus went to getting power back to sewage pump stations in Fallsburg and the Town of Thompson, because without power they were beginning to overflow, and there was a risk they would fail.

Through the evening crews from the Sullivan County Department of Public Works (DPW), and crews from the other municipalities cleared as many roads as possible, but without a member of a utility, road crews are not able to address trees fallen on wires.    

By Saturday, there were massive power outages throughout the county. There were communication issues with email downs and cell phone towers lacking power.  Text messages sometimes worked when phones did not, and cell carriers went in and out throughout the day.

Still by 2:00 pm Saturday county staff, working at the Emergency Operations Center were able to get just about every town supervisor and school superintendents and others on a conference call to plan the recovery.

Meanwhile, there was still concern about the jail.  According to Depew, Jail Administrator Hal Smith said to him, “As long as I get these people fed, I’m okay,”  and Depew added, “I think right after he got the people fed on Saturday, the generator blew up at the jail.

 A team from the DPW went to work to try to fix the generator, but they needed a part and the closest one that could be found was Indiana. At that point Sheriff Mike Schiff drove around with a NYSEG representative, they found a crew and brought them to the jail to get that up running, which they were ultimately able to do.

On Saturday crews from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and New York National Guard joined the effort, clearing trees and opening roads as much as possible. According to Depew, the National Guard crews removed 430,000 tons of trees on Saturday and Sunday.

Working with town supervisors, county staffers by Sunday night were able to compile a list of some 158 roads, mostly in towns of Tusten, Highland, Lumberland and Forestburgh, that had not been opened, and where towns needed help to address them.

Depew said, “we knew at some point if we don’t start pairing up with crews from Orange and Rockland (O&R) and NYSEG, we’re not going anywhere, because our guys show up at a tree on wires, they don’t know if it’s safe or unsafe.”

On Monday morning about 100 people from the various organizations met up at the county highway facility in Barryville.  The responders were assembled into teams consisting of a utility crew, a bucket truck for tree removal, NYS DOT or DPW personnel, and National Guard members with vehicle.  Two teams went to Tusten, two in Highland.  Depew said they were waiting on O&R and, they finally got personnel on scene and teams were dispatched into Lumberland and Forestburgh,

These teams worked on Monday and Tuesday and Depew said they opened up about 100 roads.  Depew  said, “As of this morning there were 1321 O&R customers without power,  In Mamakating 1130 without power, a lot of them got power back and lost it again. bBecause of the new storm, in Lumberland, the 1321 folks are going on seven days without power.”  He said there were 200 people without power in Tusten.

Meanwhile, with another storm bearing down on the region, DPW found another generator, moved it to the jail, in case the power went down again in the next storm.

After Depew’s presentation, legislator Nadia Rajsz had harsh words for the management and CEOs of O&R and NYSEG.  She said, “I have to say I’m very disappointed in the utility companies, not only O&R which is Forestburgh and Lumberland, but also NYSEG which is Highland and Tusten. I’m not sure what they were thinking, if anything, they did deploy some crews, but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t timely.”


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