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Utility workers from region brace for ice storm damage in NH

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 21. 2013 10:08PM
Road crews wait their turn to drive north as PSNH gets organized from the staging area at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

12/21/13 Trucks start to roll as PSNH gets organized from the staging area at the airport in Manchester on Saturday. Thomas Roy/Union Leader

MANCHESTER - Jason Lavallee had planned to be in New York City today with his wife to see the famed Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and take in the sights.

Instead, the Connecticut Light and Power line crewman from Westfield, Mass., is heading to New Hampshire's North Country to be ready to help repair any Public Service of New Hampshire electric lines damaged from an ice storm that, as of Saturday night, had been predicted to blanket the northern half of the state with ice today.

"We all make sacrifices to come up here, but that's what we signed up for," Lavallee said.

He was one of hundreds of crew members from several of PSNH's sister companies under the Northeast Utilities umbrella of power companies throughout New England who were sent from a central "staging area" at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Saturday night to towns throughout the northern part of the state.

About 250 line crew members and 300 tree workers from Connecticut and Massachusetts arrived in New Hampshire on Saturday and will be throughout the state today to help PSNH's contingent of 200 line workers and 200 tree workers, according to Martin Murray, a PSNH spokesman.

"We're hoping for the best but preparing for the worst," he said. "If (the storm) is bad, we have a lot of people on the ground ready to respond. And they will be deployed in areas where they can quickly get to those areas that are impacted."

Murray said the power company was fortunate in that the ice storm is predicted to affect only northern portions of New England, unlike the 2008 ice storm, which crippled a much larger area than today's storm was anticipated to.

"Five years ago ... we couldn't have gotten these crews. They would have been helping their own customers," he said.

The New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has similar efforts underway, with dozens of crews dispatched to handle repairs if needed, a company spokesman said Friday. Hampton-based Unitil, which also serves customers in the Concord area, has also reached out to third-party contractors and secured 70 tree and bucket crews and an additional 50 "wires down and damage assessment support staff" to provide assistance, a company spokesman said Friday.

The storm is predicted to continue today and into Monday morning, especially in northern parts of the state, according to the National Weather Service.

"Freezing rain will create significant icing, with half an inch ... or more ... possible through Sunday night," a National Weather Service warning said Saturday.

The storm will be followed by a drop in temperatures that will see much of the state have temperatures below 20 degrees for Christmas Eve and Christmas, according to forecasts.

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