Village power restored but problems persist

Posted: Tuesday, January 04, 2011

ANCHORAGE — Power was restored Monday to the village of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, but pipes that had frozen and burst during the outage were causing serious plumbing problems.

Mayor Myron Kingeekuk said the power was back on early Monday but then went off and came back on again later in the morning.

“All power is back on again but we don’t know for how long,” he said.

The bigger problem on Monday was with pipes that froze over the past week and burst when the power went out in the Yup’ik Eskimo village of about 700 people.

Savoonga is on an island in the Bering Sea about 165 miles west of Nome.

Kingeekuk did not know how many homes had pipes that needed fixing. He said two plumbers from the Bering Straits Regional Housing Authority were on their way to the island.

Bob Mocan, the association’s president and CEO, said it was sending an emergency crew to the village. He blamed the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, the utility that provides power to Savoonga, for the plumbing problems.

“It was their transmission lines that fell apart and broke in the storm,” Mocan said.

Bill Stamm, distribution supervisor for the cooperative, said the utility isn’t responsible for Savoonga’s broken pipes. AVEC has been working hard to fix the electrical problems ever since a storm swept the island and coated lines, transformers and insulators with salt water from the sea a week ago, he said.

“We have intermittent outages still going on,” Stamm said.

The outages began Dec. 27 when the storm caused electric lines to become laden with frozen salt water. Winds also caused arcing that caused the lines to short out.

Power was restored a few days later and stayed on for the most part until Sunday when there was another big outage, Stamm said.

On Monday morning power was once again restored, but then went out only to be restored again, he said. Two electrical technicians were standing by in Savoonga to keep an eye on the situation, he said.

Stamm said the problem is salt water picked up by the storm coated electrical insulators. The insulators were wiped dry but more needs to be done because the salt and moisture is continuing to cause shortages, he said.

The plan now is to get some cleaning fluids and a high-pressure washer to Savoonga to more thoroughly clean off the insulators, he said.

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