Crews press to resolve few thousand remaining outages, but Sunday snow and ice could hinder that push

Posted Dec. 28, 2013, at 11:22 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 29, 2013, at 2:44 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Tree-cutting crews from western Massachusetts guzzled coffee and gorged on eggs and bacon at 5 a.m. Saturday, preparing for another 17-hour shift.

Most were preparing to head to Hancock County, where crews were working to restore power to more than 3,500 customers still without electricity that morning.

Chad Houser, 33, of New Hampshire came to Maine as part of one of these crews on Christmas Eve, leaving behind his two children and a wife who has another on the way,

This was the third Christmas in a row that he has spent away from his kids because of work, he said.

“It’s a tough job, but this is our livelihood,” Houser said.

Traveling to scattered parts of the state, crews have received all kinds of praise and offerings since their arrival. Residents have come out to offer them cookies, fudge and warm beverages as thanks for their work in cold, sometimes dangerous conditions.

Gabriel Valentine, 29, of Palmer, Mass., said the most unusual thing his Lewis Tree Services crew received this trip from a homeowner was a batch of scratch tickets. Valentine won $20.

David Rideout, a 27-year-old Lincoln resident who works for Bangor Hydro, fueled up his truck at a Bangor gas station at 6 a.m. Saturday while a fellow lineman appeared to be catching a few more minutes of sleep in the passenger’s seat.

The most unusual offering he received was a Christmas ornament.

He missed his newborn baby’s first Christmas, but the presents still haven’t been unwrapped, so the family will have its first Christmas celebration together once power has been restored, he said.

It’s always like that in Maine, they said, but toward the end of restoration efforts, the acts of kindness and appreciation start to dwindle, just like they do everywhere else.

“Every storm is the same,” Houser said. “When you first get called up, everybody is excited to see you,” but after a while — especially once the power starts coming back on — people get sick of seeing and driving around the trucks.

Lewis Tree Services crews have eaten breakfast and dinner at Dysart’s every day since arriving in Maine, according to Valentine. Bagged lunches are passed out to crews on the road.

“This place has treated us real good,” Valentine said.

After working 16- or 17-hour shifts, taking care of equipment, eating and hunkering down for the night in hotel rooms or their own homes, most linemen and tree cutters have been working on three or four hours of sleep per night.

When asked how many trees he has cut since he arrived in Maine on Tuesday, Houser said, “too damn many.”

Out-of-state crews from as far away as New Jersey and Nova Scotia are in Maine chipping away at ice, trimming trees, fixing lines and repairing damage in an effort to restore power to Bangor Hydro customers who were still without power over the weekend.

But the threat of outages resurfacing this weekend remains, with forecasts calling for snow, sleet and freezing rain, especially Down East and in central Maine, and parts of the state could see heavy snow. The National Weather Service’s Caribou office has issued a winter storm watch for Sunday, calling for 7 or more inches of snow and about a tenth of an inch of ice. The Gray weather service office has done the same, calling for heavy snow, which could pile up to between 6 and 10 inches.

Bangor Hydro and CMP have cautioned that such snow and ice could cause already overburdened limbs to snap and lead to more power interruptions. The weather also could slow travel for many out-of-state utility crews that were hoping to head home on Sunday.