by Tammy Sakry
Trees were down. Electrical poles broken in half. Customers were angry about not having power and another storm front was moving in.
It may sound like a typical after-storm clean up for the Connexus Energy crew, but this time the crew was helping clean up Connecticut, New York and Long Island after Hurricane Sandy.
Within 24 hours of being asked for help with the repair work, the Ramsey-based cooperative sent seven trucks and a volunteer team of 12 crew members, including linemen, a mechanic and a supervisor, who left Nov. 2.
It was a two-week commitment, according to Tom Hoxter, group leader.
Linemen Jay Martell and Dave Latour were both hoping to get the call.
Latour said he likes going out and being able to work under different conditions.
The storm damage work is not any different, it is just in a different place, said Martell.
“But the guys get excited to go to different places to help repair storm damage,” he said.
Martell, who has been with Connexus for 25 years, has been on numerous trips to help repair storm damage, including repairing winter storm damage in 1991 in Winona and flood damage in the Red River Valley.
“It is kind of the reason people get into the job,” Hoxter said. “It is fun to be under the gun and people counting on you to get things done.”
Before receiving the Nov. 1 call for help, the crew members had been watching the news reports.
“We kept hearing how many people were out of power, how long it was taking to get the power back on and how (customers) were getting nasty,” said Martell, lead lineman.
The expectation was that people were going to be throwing things at them, said Hoxter.
“That was not the case at all,” he said.
When people saw they were from Minnesota, they were very appreciative, Hoxter said.
The crew was served a lot of coffee and received donuts from the grateful customers.
But the crew was frustrated by Connecticut Light and Power because there were no hotel rooms reserved for them.
Connexus crew members got on their computers and were able to find their own hotel, Hoxter said.
The crew started work Nov. 5 in Greenwich, Conn., helping to clear roads of downed power lines and trees.
The average work day was about 15.5 hours, Hoxter said.
A lot of the work that is normally done with the trucks, like installing new poles, had to be done by hand, he said.
The crew got the reputation of being the go-to crew, said Samantha Neral, Connexus Energy communications and community relations.
There were crews there that did not know how to install poles by hand or would not, Hoxter said.
The first couple of days were spent clearing the road of downed lines and trees.
It was not until the middle of the second day the crew actually got to do some line repair work and were able to restore power to a large apartment complex and its 90 residents.
While in Connecticut, the crew also worked on restoring power to mansions, including Kathy Lee Gifford’s.
“There are a lot of big, big houses there,” Martell said.
One of the things that is very different from Minnesota is that the transformers are located inside the homes, Hoxter said.
On large estates it was sometimes hard to locate the transformers, he said.
Some of the roads in Connecticut and Long Island presented the crew with some challenges.
“The roads were like goat trails,” said Martell.
With the truck parked on the side and taking up some of the lanes, the horns really started honking, he said.
The narrow roads were very dangerous to work along, Hoxter said.
On the sixth day, the crew also had to deal with a Nor’easter, which included high winds and wet snow.
At one point, Martell asked one of the Connecticut Light and Power crew when the Nor’easter was supposed to hit.
The storm was already there and dumping about 6 inches of snow on the area, but being from Minnesota, the conditions were nothing new, Martell said.
On the eighth day, the crew was sent to Long Island, home to about 7 million people.
There was some logistical stuff that had to be worked out, with 250,000 customers still without power and 1,000 crews from several states and Canadian provinces arriving to help, Hoxter said.
Check-in took four to five hours, he said.
The most frustrating thing was that there were no hotel rooms for the crew beyond the large tents that would sleep 1,500 people, Hoxter said.
“We only spent one night in the large tent,” Martell said.
“I could see my breath all night,” Hoxter said.
While working in Russell Gardens, N.Y., the crew was warned it was going to be the solution to a political mess.
They were warned that the mayor, Matthew Bloomfield, would be there because the city had been without power for 12 days, Hoxter said.
Rather than being in the way, Bloomfield was very helpful, he said.
When the crew needed a car moved from a driveway and the family was on vacation, Bloomfield had it towed.
And when the crew mentioned the home’s gazebo was in the way, Bloomfield had the public works crews take it down, Hoxter said.
The public works crew was also quick to cut down the beautiful hedge the home had around it to allow the crew access to the back yard to repair the pole, he said.
Bloomfield also got into his Bobcat and helped the crew get the utility truck out of a muddy area, Hoxter said.
For lunch, Bloomfield opened City Hall and treated the crew to a pizza lunch and sent the Connexus scheduler flowers after hearing Hoxter beg her to find the crew hotel rooms that night.
The crew worked four days in New York villages and returned home Nov. 15.
“It was good to get home,” Hoxter said.