The lights went out in parts of Meeker on Saturday afternoon when two high-voltage power poles were pulled down on First Street, next to Stage Stop, turning the power off in the downtown district as well as at other businesses and residential neighborhoods in the area. White River Electric Association workers labored through the day and into the evening to restore power and install new utility poles.
MEEKER I Saturday’s outage, which resulted in a loss of power for half of the town of Meeker — and lost revenue for local businesses — took crews hours to restore service.
And it was all so unnecessary, said Dick Welle general manager of White River Electric Association.
“Our role is not to condemn people for this kind of activity … but this was a very close call, and it put a lot of people at unnecessary risk, and thousands of dollars of expense that didn’t need to happen,” Welle said.
No one was injured, though Welle said the incident had the potential for disastrous results.
“No injuries is the success of the day, but the potential (risk) to the public was enormous,” Welle said. “It had extreme potential for danger to everyone involved, plus the general public.”
The outage occurred when a tall load being hauled by Gus Anderson intersected with overhead power lines on School Street, east of Stage Stop Meat Market, pulling down two utility poles one block over, on First Street.
“They were hauling the framework of a shed,” Welle said. “It broke both poles off at the ground. If Jason Steiner (owner of Stage Stop who was mowing in front of his business) had not been looking … when he started to see (the poles) fall, he ran the opposite way, or he could have been contacted by the overhead coming down.”
Mike Sullivan, who was following Anderson, had a utility wire fall across his vehicle.
“Gus was driving the truck, and Mike was following behind him in a pickup or a car,” Welle said. “The fire department made (Sullivan) stay in his vehicle. That’s what we train to do. Until we get there and we clear that wire, we don’t know if the car is energized or not. If they step out onto the ground, they can get electrocuted, if the car is energized.”
The outage occurred around 11 a.m.
“I was in Grand Junction when I got the call, and I raced home,” Welle said. “It was 11 p.m. before we got the site to where we could leave it. If you take man hours, we’re going to have about 200 man hours in the reconstruction of that thing.”
Power was off in parts of Meeker while crews worked to restore service.
“About half the town was out for approximately two hours,” Welle said. “What we had to do was switch and isolate the faulted region, and then get customers back on from different sources. Within about two hours, we had service restored to most all of the affected parties.”
Steiner said Saturday’s outage — the day before Father’s Day — occurred at an inopportune time.
“We had a lost day’s sales and lost product,” Steiner said. “There’s never a good day, but this damn sure wasn’t a good day.”
In the aftermath of the accident, there were two important lessons to be learned, Welle said.
“The whole point is, this is a public safety issue,” Welle said. “That’s the strongest point I want to make.”
The other point Welle stressed was notification.
“Anything over 15 feet (tall), wherever you’re moving it, call White River,” Welle said. “The county and the state both have permit processes, and those processes work and notify all related parties. We didn’t know (the load) was coming through, and neither did the town, and neither did the county. I’m not a big regulatory guy to say we need another permit process. But if that permit saves one accident, it’s worth it all.
“And don’t go out and measure overhead facilities on your own. Again, call White River. That’s a service we provide. Just make that phone call. It’s what we do. I’d much rather help you out on the front end, than work like this on the other end.
“It was rumored that these individuals actually did some of their own measuring. The public should never stick anything up in the air and try to figure out if what they want to haul will fit underneath (power lines),” Welle continued. “If they had touched an energized power conductor … the risk of electrocution is enormous. It all goes back to public safety. That one phone call would have averted all of this.”
Traffic on Highway 13, which runs in front of Stage Stop, was diverted while workers secured the scene, which resulted in further problems.
“What happened was, due to the traffic jam, a truck tried to turn around and go back down Market Street, when it contacted a pole and knocked it into the chamber (of commerce) sign,” Welle said, adding he also heard there was damage to an access gate in the parking lot of the Bureau of Land Management/U.S. Forest Service building, across the road from Stage Stop, where traffic was rerouted.
The situation could have further deteriorated if Anderson had not been prevented from attempting to make a second pass with the load.
“Gus actually tried to come back through a second time,” Welle said. “He went back and put (the shed) on a different trailer and on a tractor. We stopped him in the middle of the highway from going over our already leaned-over lines, because he was going to hit it again. He came down the same path … right in front of us, while we were working. It was cleared on School Street, but when he turned on to the highway this pole was laid over. We yelled at him and stopped him. We backed him up and made him go through the path he had already cleared and parked that shed.”
Meeker Police Department is investigating the incident.
“I don’t know, potentially, what citations will be issued,” Welle said. “Obviously, White River will submit our costs to whomever. Generally, insurance companies will be the ones … that settle. We have thousands upon thousands of dollars in this one. We basically assess our costs, without regards to loss of revenue. But the loss of revenue to White River during these outages is substantial, and a loss of services to our customers. We’re in the business of selling electricity. When something like this happens, the meter doesn’t run.
“Irrespective of poles, transformers, wires, all that can be replaced,” Welle said. “Our focus is, sooner or later, a human life is going to be lost in this kind of scenario. And it was only by God’s grace somebody wasn’t.”