NOTL Hydro workers join Fort Erie cleanup after blizzard

A team of line workers from Niagara-on-the-Lake Hydro spent the holidays helping other communities clean up after a massive blizzard swept through Niagara just before Christmas.

NOTL was one of the lucky areas when the storm hit.

“Here in town we didn't have too, too much happen,” said Jason Meleskie, hydro's operations supervisor.

The town had a few downed trees and outages but the team was able to clear up most problems quickly, he said.

Still, the utility spent the better part of two days working to restore power everywhere in NOTL.

But with hours to go before Christmas Day, the town was back on track and people were able to celebrate with the lights on.

In Fort Erie, the storm hit so hard that houses along the lakefront literally were encased in ice.

Jonathan Beam, a line worker who also lives in Fort Erie, told The Lake Report he was unable to leave his house until midday Christmas Eve.

Normally power outages in Fort Erie and Port Colborne are handled by Canadian Niagara Power, which supplies 24,800 people in the area.

Beam learned that the company’s line workers were forced to “shelter in place,” so he reached out to some of his co-workers in NOTL to see if they could lend a hand.

With NOTL cleaned up, six line workers, including Beam and Meleskie, took two trucks to Fort Erie to help repair the damage caused by the storm.

While on the job, Beam and Meleskie encountered some abandoned cars in the snow but their fellow line workers in Fort Erie had done a good job clearing downed trees and other hazards, so the team could make it into town to restore power.

Beam estimates they worked three 16-hour days in a row after Christmas.

“There was nothing really out of the norm that we haven't worked in before,” Meleskie said. “You just gotta adjust to it.”

The workers missed out on a lot of family time to help support their neighbours south of NOTL.

From storm start to storm finish, Meleskie said he barely saw his two boys.

When he finally got home Thursday, Dec. 29, "They were pretty excited to see me," Meleskie said.

In the coming and going between Fort Erie and NOTL before and after the storm, there just wasn’t much time to be with family.

Beam said he was a little luckier.

“I got to do Christmas morning with my kid, which was nice,” he said.

Like Meleskie, though, Beam was pulling long hours during the storm and was not getting home until well after dark.

“What goes around comes around,” Beam said.

Since Fort Erie is outside their normal work zone, it was left to the workers to decide if they would pick up the hours and pitch in for the clean up.

Company president Tim Curtis said many utility companies have formal or informal agreements to support each other during public emergencies like this one.

Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report