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Spring storm takes toll on trees
By By Jill Meier
Challenger editor

April 16. 2013 9:16AM
An unusual spring storm walloped the area on Tuesday, beginning with rain that developed into ice, and was followed by heavy snow and strong winds. The unfavorable weather conditions combined for a spring storm that will long be remembered.

The storm left thousands of area residents in the dark and the cold, as power lines were taken down by the ice and subsequent snow.

By end of day Saturday, Sioux Valley Energy had power restored to all but 300 of its electrical cooperative members. That was down considerably from the highest point on April 11 of over 10,000 members.

SVE officials estimate approximately 200 poles went down from ice and wind during the storm and found significant damage to the cooperative’s substations and electric lines. General Manager Tim McCarthy, who began his duties at SVE only one month ago, was impressed by both the employees and the cooperative’s membership.

“As you know I have only been at SVE a month, but I have witnessed the absolute dedication of the employees to make sure our members come first,” he said. “I am also impressed with the engagement and support that the membership has towards the cooperative."

Electric cooperatives from across the state of South Dakota sent extra lineworkers to assist in the restoration efforts. Workers from various cooperatives – Cam Wall Electric (Selby), Whetstone Valley Electric (Milbank), Northern Electric (Bath), Kingsbury Electric (DeSmet), Moreau-Grand Electric (Timber Lake), Lake Region Electric (Webster) and Cherry-Todd Electric (Mission) – assisted in the power restoration. May Construction Inc. and Legacy Power Line Inc. also helped out.

“(Saturday) has been a good day in terms of getting power back on to our members, many of whom haven’t had power since Tuesday,” McCarthy said. “But in reality, we still have a lot of structures on the ground, which have to be rebuilt (as) our distribution system was basically decimated in portions of Rock County in Minnesota.”

Cooperative employees took phone calls around the clock to assist members, and since the start of the storm last Tuesday, more than 6,300 calls were answered.

“I think people are a little surprised to get a real person on the phone when they call to report an outage but they have appreciated being able to tell someone what is going on at their residence and in some cases just get information about the process of restoring power,” said McCarthy.

Xcel Energy update
Crews repairing Xcel Energy’s electricity grid, which was damaged by last week’s ice storm, wrapped up restoration efforts Sunday, according to Xcel officials.

Approximately 90,000 customers in Sioux Falls and surrounding communities in South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota experienced outages since the storm hit Tuesday.
Crews have restored power to nearly all customers, except those whose home was damaged by the storm and where an electrician is required to repair the homeowner’s equipment before service can be reconnected safely.

Xcel Energy officials want to thank customers for their patience during this long and challenging process.

Cleaning up
Tree and branch drop-of sites have been established in both Valley Springs and Brandon.

Brandon City Administrator Bryan Read said the City Council discussed a plan for curbside pick-up at their Thursday briefing session, and were expected to approve the clean-up plan Monday night.

Read said branches should be brought to the curb. “We’re definitely not going to go on private property,” he said.

A branch drop-off site was also established near McHardy Park east of the hockey and ice skating rinks. Valley Springs residents should take their fallen branches to the usual drop off site, near the city lagoons, according to city officials.

Read said it’s difficult to put a price on the amount of damage to trees throughout the city, including significant damage at the Brandon Municipal Golf Course and city parks.

“We didn’t go unscathed,” he said.

Read said tree damage in the Sylvan Circle and core area (Sioux Boulevard to 8th Avenue) of the city were hit hardest. “There’s some fairly significant tree damage,” he said.

Four missed days of classes
Students at Brandon Valley schools got an unexpected four-day break last week.
According to Superintendent Dave Pappone, at least one of those four days will be made up.

“In our current calendar, we have two built-in snow days,” he said, adding that five days in all total have been missed so far this year. Two of the five days will be made up April 26 and 29.

Pappone said the remaining three days may be added to the end of the school year, but added that could present some challenges.

The last day of school was scheduled for Tuesday, May 21, and the first day of the South Dakota High School state track meet is held in Brandon, which is Friday, May 24.

Pappone said the school board will decide the calendar changes at its April 22 meeting.

A week chalked full of activities is in the process of being rescheduled; some events may be cancelled altogether, Pappone said.

Some Bethany residents in the dark
The Bethany Meadows/Bethany Home – Brandon campus is supplied by two power companies, Sioux Valley Energy and Xcel Energy, which left some residents in the dark and in the cold.

Bethany officials said 20 to 25 of its residents left the facility to stay with family members.

“Our staf families and residents all pulled together,” said Bethany CEO Dennis Sever. “We improvised with food and had enough heat that nobody got too cold.”

Had that not worked, Sever said a plan was in place to accommodate the residents. Brandon Valley High School’s commons was reserved for that need.

“We checked right away with the school since it was the closest, biggest place,” Sever said.

Pappone said usage of the commons would’ve allowed them to do some minimal food preparation. “It would’ve been warm and they could’ve opened the concessions for some minimal food preparations,” he said.

But generators were fired up until service was restored about 7 p.m. Thursday.

“We didn’t need to move – everything worked out well here,” Sever said. “But our residents missed two big things – TV and warm showers.”

Sever credits his staff for keeping the situation under control. “Our staff rose to the occasion – we’re calling them all ‘rock stars,’ ” he said. “And our residents, they were troopers.”
Local hotels help out
“We could’ve sold the hotel out three times yesterday.”

That’s how Beth Wooten, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Brandon summed up last week’s storm.

Wooten said the hotel was filled with local and area residents, as well as lineworkers from cooperatives across the state.

“It was a like a wedding, everybody knows everybody,” she said.

Wooten said both hotels were full Tuesday evening, and guests who stayed at the hotels because their homes had no power, were extended a special rate.

“This wasn’t in anybody’s budget,” she said. “We even had someone with a two-week-old baby, so I was glad we had room for them.”

Like the staff at Bethany, Wooten had high praise for her employees as well.

“We were turning rooms (over) with minimal staff,” she said.

Around town
It was 8:20 Tuesday morning when Carol Bothe heard the tree come down in her yard at 316 Sixth Ave.

“I heard a noise and the dog was looking out the window,” she said. “I wasn’t going to worry about until after work but then ‘boom,’ down went the power.”

Shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday, Brandon and Split Rock volunteer fire departments were called to a structure fire on the corner of First Avenue and Holly Boulevard. Gary Lembcke with the Brandon Fire Department said the backside of the home had caught fire in the attic. Cause of the fire was unknown at the time.

Lembcke said the spring storm was a busy time for firefighters. Ten calls came in from late afternoon Tuesday through Wednesday morning.

The fire station was also opened to residents who were without power. He said eight people tested it out for a few hours Wednesday and another family used the shower facilities that same night.

Darin Epling spent hours Thursday morning cutting fallen tree branches on his property at 400 S. Fourth Ave. due to a power pole that snapped in his backyard Tuesday.

Even hours after hauling branches to the curbs, Epling was still all smiles.

“It’s nice,” he said. “I’ve met some neighbors I never even knew.”

He was also willing to help others, too.

“If I can get the day off, I’m going to go over and help him out,” he said, pointing toward an elderly neighbor. “I’ve never seen anything like this before and I feel bad for all those old trees, but it is what it is.”

Across the street, Bill McNamara was helping out a neighbor by clearing the wet, heavy snow from his neighbor’s driveway.

“By the time they’d get home, this would be all solid,” he said.

Power outages disrupt 911 service
Cable TV, Internet and phone services including 911 from Alliance Communications was impacted by power outages from the winter storm.

During electrical outages, battery backups at each home and business continued to power landline phone service for a several hours. The battery backups, however, could not support cable TV and Internet services. As of midday Friday, about 3,300 Alliance customers were without 911 service over landline.

The core area of Brandon – Sioux Boulevard to Eighth Avenue and the Sylvan Circle area – were hit hardest in tree damage from last week's ice and snow storm. For more photos from the spring storm, check out the photo gallery. Photo by Jill Meier

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