BELFAST, Maine — A widespread midcoast power outage Sunday afternoon had some major repercussions in Belfast as the city filled up with thousands of extra people in town for the Trek Across Maine.
“When the power went out, it was just a mess,” Police Chief Mike McFadden of the Belfast Police Department said Monday. “It was incredibly busy.”
According to Central Maine Power spokesperson Gail Rice, the utility was doing work in the area and had set up a mobile substation in Belfast.
“For some reason, the transformer in that mobile substation failed,” she said. “We’ll be looking into the reason.”
The outage, which began at 12:30 p.m., affected 14,361 customers in 23 towns. The outages primarily affected customers in Waldo County but some in other counties as well, she said. Although CMP was able to bring back nearly 7,000 of the affected customers by 1 p.m., that was not the case in the heart of the city, which remained dark until 3:36 p.m.
McFadden said that the power went off just as the largest waves of cyclists began to pedal their way into Belfast. About 2,000 cyclists participated in the Trek Across Maine, the biggest American Lung Association fundraising event. Between the jubilant cyclists and the family, friends and others who came to cheer them as they crossed the finish line, the city population likely doubled Sunday afternoon, officials said.
Many of those people wanted to grab a bite to eat after the end of the three-day, 180-mile event, but the power outage put a damper on dining out and shopping. The Belfast Co-op closed the store and deli, turning about 100 people away, according to floor manager Caroline Wales. But employees gathered food and drinks and set up cash-only refreshment tables in the parking lot outside.
“We did pretty well with what we sold outside,” she said.
City Manager Joe Slocum said that Belfast residents wholeheartedly love the trek — the cyclists and what they ride for — and he was disappointed that the power went out, posing hardship for retailers.
“Yesterday was a nice day. Thousands of people were in town. But with no power, that’s pretty challenging,” he said. “We had a tough winter this year, so our businesses need all the business we can get.”
Some stores stayed open with the help of flashlights, and employees jotted down credit card numbers to ring transactions through once the power came back on.
“It was a bit of an inconvenience, but we didn’t miss a beat,” said Garry Conklin of Conklin’s Maine Mercantile, who lit oil lamps to illuminate his store during the outage.
McFadden said he directed traffic for two hours at the intersection of Main Street and Starrett Drive.
“There were hundreds of cyclists making their way through these intersections and a steady line of cars coming into Belfast,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many cars coming into Belfast.”
Other law enforcement personnel helped with traffic control, including one officer from Scarborough who drove his motorcycle alongside the cyclists.
“He stopped to see if everything was okay and if I needed anything,” McFadden said, adding that he figured the officer thought he might be able to grab him a bottle of water. “I said I’m fine as far as water goes, but that intersection over there could use a hand.”
The southern Maine officer pitched right in, directing traffic for nearly an hour on the east side of the Route 1 overpass that had been “just gridlocked,” McFadden said.
“It was a huge help,” the chief said.