Rock Hill, York Electric Co-op crews head to SC's hardest hit areas

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 13, 2014 

Utility crews from the city of Rock Hill and York Electric Cooperative packed bags and loaded work trucks on Thursday to hit the road to where thousands of South Carolinians are without electricity.

Fifteen electric utility workers from Rock Hill headed to Orangeburg and Bamberg, where freezing rain crippled most of the Midlands, knocking out power for tens of thousands. Nine York crews of York co-op employees headed to Horry County, where nearly 17,000 people were without power along the coast.

Over the past three days, Rock Hill has been fortunate not to have lost power during a powerful winter storm, deputy city manager Jimmy Bagley said. Rock Hill’s crew will join about 35 other public utility workers in traveling to communities in the Midlands to help restore power in affected areas.

Those other workers are from Union, Gaffney, Greer and Easley. The coordination among public utility crews is part of a mutual-aid program that helps cities recover after powerful forces of nature cause electrical outages and slow down other essential services.

York Electric Cooperative mobilized under agreements as a member of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina Inc., an association of independent, member-owned electric cooperatives serving more than 1.3 million residents in all of the state’s 46 counties. Earlier Thursday, York Electric Cooperative restored power for 1,100 of its own local customers who experienced power outages for part of the morning.

Before Rock Hill’s crew left, City Manager David Vehaun fired up an outdoor grill at the city operations center on Anderson Road. He cooked nearly 200 hamburgers for city utility workers and Rock Hill’s emergency and law enforcement officials.

Hungry police officers and other city employees enjoyed the lunch spread on Thursday afternoon. Most restaurants in Rock Hill weren’t able to open because of snow and ice accumulation on local roads.

Rock Hill can afford to send some of its utilities workers, Bagley said, because the precipitation locally is a mixture of snow and sleet, which is not likely to cause widespread power outages. Ice and freezing rain on electrical equipment or on trees hanging over power lines will cause power outages, he said.

Crews staying in Rock Hill will continue to clean and scrape streets, Bagley said, especially roads that connect to essential services, such as fire departments and hospitals.

Rock Hill will spare six utility vehicles and some equipment to work in other S.C. communities. The cities who have asked for help under the mutual-aid program will pay the wages and overtime for Rock Hill’s workers while they are there.

For some on the work trip, this isn’t their first time out of town to help another city recover from storms or natural disaster. In 2012, Rock Hill sent utility workers to New York and Pennsylvania to help communities in the aftermath of “Superstorm” Sandy, which devastated a large part of the Northeast.

It’s likely that the Rock Hill crew will work 16-hour days in Orangeburg and Bamberg to help restore power. The work can be dangerous, Bagley said, as the linemen will be in bucket trucks to repair power poles and equipment that could be near trees weighted down with ice.

But for most of the Rock Hill crew, he said, it’s something of an adventure. And, it’s important work.

“It’s doing the right thing,” Bagley said. “This is neighbor helping neighbor.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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