Ice storm cleanup bill biggest in NB Power history at $30M

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Ice storm cleanup bill biggest in NB Power history at $30M

NB Power has placed the cost of the restoration after January's ice storm at $30 million, making it the largest and most expensive in the corporation's history.

At a public information session Sunday in Tracadie, Lynn Arsenault, the vice-president of customer service for NB Power, told about 40 people in attendance that was the cost of replacing infrastructure and supporting crews who worked for 12 days to restore hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. 

More expensive than Arthur

"The magnitude of this ice storm, there were a lot of costs involved, that includes of course having all the teams that came to help us," she said. "It includes the equipment, it includes...lodging and food for the resources that were restoring power," she said. 

The cost of the ice storm eclipses the cost of repairs after post-tropical storm Arthur, which cost a record $23 million in 2014. 

Arsenault, who spent time on the Acadian Peninsula during the storm, said NB Power wants to hear from customers affected by the outages so it can improve its processes in getting information out. The Sunday session was the first in a series of five public information meetings. 

"We understand that estimated time of restorations is important. It's important for customers because they need to plan, they need to know if they have to leave their home," she said. 

"So we're looking to get some information back as to where they see we can improve and we want to improve our processes as well so that when we do our planning, when we're in the event and as well afterward, what we can do to improve our processes to better restore power in the most efficient and fast way for our customers."

Lack of communication

Lack of communication was the top complaint residents listed when asked what failed during the January ice storm.

They worked in small groups to answer three questions: What do you consider was a failure? What went well? What could have been improved?

The questions are part of the part of a post-action review report being conducted by the province. The review was ordered by Premier Brian Gallant shortly after the Jan. 24-26 storm. The storm knocked out power to 130,000 customers at its peak. In total, 200,000 NB Power customers in central and eastern New Brunswick were affected.

Geoffrey Saulnier, Ward 6 councillor for the Regional Municipality of Tracadie agreed there was a lack of communication. He said in the first few days of the power outage, little information was reaching the small community where he lived in Upper Portage River.

"If this ever happens again, and I hope not, we should have a tower or radio to communicate," he said. 

Saulnier said if a radio system was set up for emergencies, then Tracadie's mayor would have been able to contact all the councillors.

"If he had a radio like this...he could communicate with us right away to have an emergency meeting."

Failures and successes

Other failures included lack of organization by various government departments and a lack of proper assessment of the damage by NB Power. Some towns and communities had emergency plans that were out of date or non-existent.

The group said things that went well included the work of the volunteers, the army's presence, community leaders showing support, and neighbours checking on neighbours. Participants suggested measures for the future that included things like equipping smaller community centres with generators, and better communication with the Red Cross. 

EMO regional manager Ken McGee said the information will help with future planning in emergencies. 

The next meeting, chaired by Judy Wagner, clerk of the executive council and head of the public service is being held in Monday in Richibucto. Other meetings are being held in Miramichi, Lamèque and Bas-Caraquet.

A report with recommendations is expected by July.