Cooperatives are never alone
It’s always scary to be alone. That’s especially true when a large part of your electric co-op’s lines have been destroyed. Fortunately, being alone is never the case for Missouri’s electric cooperatives. Once again, when Mother Nature sent her worst in the form of a destructive January ice storm, many people sent their best to assist those in harm’s way.
Years ago, the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives developed a plan to help systems affected by disasters. One phone call is all that is required to get men, materials and equipment sent into the affected area.
Thanks to the early warning from the National Weather Service, everyone in the storm’s path was on alert. Linemen from cooperatives to the north had their bags packed and goodbyes said before the first outages were reported. They left behind warm beds and loved ones to work in the harshest conditions to restore power to 64,000 Missourians left in the dark.
They came from every electric cooperative in Missouri able to lend a hand and from co-ops in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana and Mississippi. The men from Mississippi told us there was more damage to our systems than what Hurricane Katrina did to them in 2005.
As the roads were cleared and the full extent of the destruction became known, we could see we were in for a long, hard battle to rebuild these systems. The quick assessment from M&A Electric Power Cooperative showed the destruction to our reliable co-op transmission system meant our restoration effort would be more difficult and last longer. That’s when we turned to a friend in the industry and a new ally on power restoration.
St. Louis-based Ameren UE was about to release thousands of contract linemen who had completed work in southeast Missouri cities. Rather than send these men home, Ameren CEO Tom Voss decided, after discussions with Gov. Jay Nixon, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and me, to do everything in his power to keep them in place working for the electric co-ops. Ameren also offered anything else in its power to help us shorten the outage time. With their help, the number of workers assisting the three southeast Missouri co-ops jumped from hundreds to thousands.
Making this huge leap in manpower required jumping through some hoops to ensure we met requirements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That’s when we once again called our friends Gov. Nixon and Rep. Emerson to clear away any red tape that could have stood in the way of state and federal help. Their response was, “What do you need, and where do you want it?” In addition, both took time to investigate the damage and give moral support to our personnel.
Our restoration effort benefited strongly from the close ties between Pemiscot-Dunklin Board President Jake Fisher and the University of Missouri. Jake’s request for help at the co-op hardest hit by the ice storm resulted in the university loaning its Delta Research Center for use as a staging area for linemen. Associated Electric also housed some of the line workers at its New Madrid Power Plant.
Our members at Pemiscot-Dunklin, SEMO, Ozark Border, Howell-Oregon, and White River Valley received special help this time from the Missouri National Guard. We know this was made possible as a direct result of our new Adjutant Gen. Steve Danner, and we will never forget his leadership during this disaster.
We also must acknowledge MFA Oil out of Columbia for help in averting a major disaster to our power supply by sending a diesel fuel tanker to one of our power plants on short notice.
To all those who gave us a helping hand, especially the many members who volunteered time and tractors, we offer our heartfelt thanks. Without their assistance, what will go down in history as the worst ice storm ever could have lasted a lot longer.
The effects of this disaster won’t be forgotten soon, and the challenge of the rebuild continues. Members affected by future storms can rest assured the co-op family in Missouri and elsewhere will be there for them.
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.