The year 2020 has been challenging in innumerable ways. With COVID-19, fires, derechos, and hurricanes, co-ops have been serving members and each other in times of need.
When Hurricane Laura roared onto the Gulf Coast in August, it devastated the service territories of Louisiana’s Jeff Davis Electric Co-op and Beauregard Electric Co-op. Wind and flooding took down miles of lines, broke thousands of poles and crumpled transmission towers, leaving more than 100,000 members in the dark. Complete restoration was initially expected to take between 6 to 8 weeks.
Due to the extensive damage, electric co-op crews from 10 states, including 14 Illinois electric cooperatives (Adams Electric Cooperative included), sent more than 500 linemen to the region to assist in recovery and restoration efforts. Known as mutual assistance, this practice is common among electric cooperatives. Living by the cooperative principles of cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community, co-ops send crews to affected regions to help speed recovery efforts.
With the extra challenges of COVID-19, safety protocols were put into place, tent cities were erected to house assisting crews at 50 percent capacity, grab-and-go meals were planned and extra cleaning was required for tents, restrooms, and shower facilities.
“I think all of us who were down in Louisiana would agree it was probably the most damage that we’ve seen of any other storm,” said Adams Electric Line Foreman Chad Reische.
Adams Electric sent three 2-week crew rotations to Jefferson Davis Electric Cooperative in Jennings, Louisiana. Many reported experiencing the worst devastation they have ever seen with power poles snapped like toothpicks as far as the eye can see and entire structures obliterated. Line Foreman Duane Jones agreed, “I’ve never seen anything like it. There were miles and miles of line on the ground. I’ve been on ten to twelve (restorations outside of Adams Electric), and this was the worst storm I’ve been on.”
Brennan Caspermeyer, one of Adams Electric’s Apprentice Linemen, has only been on one other storm restoration. He added, “I went to Florida the year I started for Hurricane Michael. This was much worse. It was better to rebuild rather than try to fix it.” Some of the poles will be rebuilt with concrete or steel structures as requested by FEMA.
Mike Olson has been on numerous storms throughout his career as a lineman for Adams Electric. He was finishing his last week as Line Foreman helping in Louisiana before his promotion to Design and Construction Supervisor. He was quick to say, “It was a mess! And, that’s for the record! That was my last ride.”
Also assisting during the Hurricane Laura restoration were Gary Wagner, Anthony Jarboe, Jon Metz, Austin Aschemann, Logan Schutte, and Nate Smith.
The heat and humidity made for miserable working conditions, but they had one thing on their minds – working as quickly and safely as possible to restore power to the region.
In mid-September, while restoration in Louisiana was still ongoing, Hurricane Sally moved into Alabama and Mississippi knocking out power to more than 77,000 members. Six Illinois teams responded by either sending new crews or moving existing ones. At the end of October, after Hurricane Zeta, Adams Electric sent an additional crew with Chad Reische, Austin Aschemann, Brad Smith, and Nate Smith to Singing River Electric in Lucedale, Mississippi.
Source: Illinois Country Living, November 2020.