'A life hazard': Deer Island residents call for onsite NB Power personnel

·3 min read

SAINT JOHN • A lack of NB Power personnel and equipment on Deer Island is concerning some residents and the fire department.

"It's putting people's lives in danger," said Deer Island fire chief Dwayne Richardson.

Up until three or four years ago he said, there was a lineworker or power technician stationed on Deer Island at night to cover any emergencies or calls for service. Before that, there was someone there all the time. Now lineworkers have to travel to the island and take a 20-minute ferry. NB Power spokesperson Marc Belliveau confirmed there are no NB Power personnel stationed on the island.

Richardson said a "very large fire" in 2018 was an "eye-opener."

The Paturel International lobster processing plant was destroyed by fire, and Richardson said the firefighters had to wait almost three hours before a lineworker arrived on the island and could cut power to make it safe for them to approach the building.

When lines fall on the road during a storm, he said the volunteer firefighter team has to take the time to block the road off until NB Power can fix the line. Most times in cases of fallen lines the power becomes disconnected but lately, he said, the lines have been staying energized.

He said he blames NB Power, not the crews.

"This is no way any reflection on the people that work for NB Power. Linesmen and technicians are doing a fantastic job."

The ferry from Letete only runs from 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., which makes it more difficult to get a ferry in an emergency, Richardson said, although the ferry can run in case of an emergency.

Katherine Landry, Deer Island Chamber of Commerce chair, said the chamber is in support of having power utility personnel and equipment placed on the island. She says they support the fire department in its concerns.

"We feel this would be the least the province could do, would be to provide them with the basic safety option."

Personally, she believes there could be, and probably will be, a situation where lives are in danger or someone is killed.

"It could be anyone of our businesses or our homes. It could be one of our family members in danger."

She said when a big storm hit, in early December, there were power lines down on the road, but the power couldn't be turned off until 13 hours later.

According to Belliveau, the ferry was not operational due to high winds on that occasion. NB Power made the necessary repairs once the ferry was running and personnel could travel to the island.

Belliveau said NB Power's goal is to balance service levels and costs for customers everywhere in the province.

"This means that we while we have crews in areas that are more densely populated, it certainly means as well that we value each and every customer throughout the province and provide the best service we can at all times," he said in an emailed statement.

He said if there are "imminent safety risks," the power to the island can be cut off, but then the transmission would be cut off to all the Fundy Isles, including Campobello and Grand Manan. NB Power is always looking at improvement in safety and operational procedures, he said.

The utility was also in the news recently over its wage costs. According to a copy of the tentative agreement that the Daily Gleaner obtained earlier this week, NB Power will offer its unionized workforce wage increases of more than 6.5 per cent over four years. The tentative agreement was approved by the province and the NB Power board of directors.

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.

Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal