Petersburg’s Oct 31st landslide from above. (Photo by Jared Popp)

A utility pole was knocked down by a landslide in Petersburg on Monday, October 31st. A team of people worked around the clock to clear debris and restore power, phone and internet connections. That team was made up of an emergency crew from SEAPA, or Southeast Alaska Power Agency, and local utility employees. They had additional support from Public Works and local construction companies. 

KFSK’s Rachel Cassandra talked with Petersburg Borough’s Utility Director, Karl Hagerman. They spoke yesterday morning, before power had been fully restored to all residents. 

Karl Hagerman: After the landslide that happened on Halloween afternoon SEAPA sent their emergency contractor EPC. EPC stands for Electrical Power Contractor. They have a line crew that comes to Southeast Alaska, if we have an emergency like this, and working with Power Light, blind crew started work on the on the repairs to the line. They worked through the night, and they had restored the SEAPA line, the transmission line to Petersburg, and we were able to heat that lineup. When we say heat up we mean energize with SEAPA, and we came off with diesel power. So that that action right there restored power to all customers on the north side of the slide area. Well, not all I shouldn’t say all. There are a few homes that were unfortunately not able to be incorporated into the restoration process just for safety reasons to keep any any energized lines away from the slide area. We had to create some openings in the line for safety sake. So those those folks that are within approximately a mile slide area on either side have been without power since the slide. It was a lot of damage, just small damage. When the landslide came through and it broke a lot of things that all need to be replaced like wire and transformers that were damaged. A lot of a lot of small things. It’s just as time-consuming to address and the crews worked all night, you know, in 20 degree weather. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining or snowing. That helped a lot. But still to have not only line crews doing various tasks to get the line backup but traffic control throughout the night. The flaggers were standing there constantly throughout the night.

Rachel Cassandra: Let’s go just go through the the infrastructure damage that the landside caused.

Karl Hagerman: So from a property damage standpoint, it was actually not that significant. Private property. Public infrastructure, on the other hand, took a pretty good hit. The one pole was completely destroyed. Those poles in that area belong to SEAPA, the Southeast Alaska Power Agency. They provide wholesale hydropower to Petersberg, Wrangle, and Ketchikan. And so the agency immediately was involved in mobilizing their emergency crew to Petersburg. So the poles hold many different utilities. The very top rung is the SEAPA transmission line, a 69,000 volt line. And then the borough has a circuit on there carrying 24,000 volts. And below that there are telecommunication lines, AP&T had a brand new fiber line that was just run this last summer from one end of the island to the other that unfortunately had to be cut to facilitate the cleanup. It’s data and phone I think. And GCI also had an infrastructure on those poles as well. So their their cable had to be cut, in addition to AP&T just to facilitate the repair. 

Rachel Cassandra : It was a small slide, there was a lot of damaged infrastructure. Is that typical or was it just kind of like very, very bad luck?

Karl Hagerman: It was definitely bad luck. The that area in question has seen some, some pretty significant slides over the last, you know, ten, fifteen years. So that area in itself is is not a very stable slope. That said, all those other slides that I mentioned did not impact the power at all. And they were some pretty significant slides. So this one unfortunately was closer to the road and came across the highway and one of those SEAPA poles was just dead center right in the middle of that that slope. So it is some bad luck for certain

Rachel Cassandra: Is there anything that you all see that you would do moving forward differently?

Karl Hagerman: It’s part of the risk of having a power line in Southeast Alaska. You know, it really is. And unfortunately, that’s the way it is when when lines are built. The engineers do look at terrain and they try to place poles and structures and locations where they won’t be subject to this type of thing but unfortunately, in some areas that are just prone to slides, it’s going to happen.

Rachel Cassandra: So is there anything else that you feel like it’s important to share?

Karl Hagerman: As always, it seems that when when issues like this happen, when slides occur and property damage occurs, it’s just amazing that small towns like Petersburg, pull together and and help each other and the kindness is fantastic. The effort that goes into the restoration is huge. And the crews they really work hard to get everybody back in power.

Hagerman says that Petersburg Municipal Power & Light’s diesel generator powered the town for thirty hours. But residents won’t see any price hikes. Utility providers will fully absorb that cost. Power has now been fully restored on the island.