Help is on the way for Board of Water and Light crews who have been working to restore power since a damaging ice storm Sunday morning.
Ten crews from other utilities will join 44 crews out working Saturday, as BWL tries to get approximately 3,000 customers back online -- many of whom have been in the dark for a week.
"Forty percent of our entire distribution center went down on Sunday and our crews in the span of four days restored 90 percent of it," said Peter Lark, BWL's general manager. "If you're not in the 90 percent, you're not happy. I understand that."
Ninety-seven percent of BWL customers have power, Lark said, but crews will continue putting in 16-hour days until all customers are back.
Lark faced dozens of unhappy customers at a news conference Saturday, some toting signs, others using their voices to complain of what they consider to be poor service.
Most of those customers caught wind of the press conference just hours before, at a demonstration at the East Lansing Glencairn School, where they chanted and rallied, trying to get their voices heard.
"Show me one truck that is fixing anything in this neighborhood and I will say ok it is going to be fixed, but there is nothing in Glenclairn, nothing," said Emine Evered, an East Lansing resident without power, adding she's not impressed when BWL says it hears its customers concerns. "Hearing is one thing, doing something about it is another."
"I think it is important to speak our minds," said Peter Alegi, holding a piece of firewood he called his "survival kit." "To be without power for seven days in a Michigan winter is unacceptable and the communication has been poor and the service has been very poor and we're speaking out."
Demonstrators demanded their power be restored by Sunday at 10 p.m., just before a forecast drop in temperatures. While they applauded the workers on the ground, they say it's the administrators that need to be straightened out.
"I want power reconnected," said Alegi. "I want crews and I want trucks out here. We haven't seen any BWL workers, let alone bucket trucks. That's what we need. It's not rocket science."
At the press conference, Lark conceded that there were "perhaps" things BWL could have done better, specifically referring to communications and social media. But he says his company's response has been successful.
"Almost half of our system went down on Sunday," Lark said. "To bring 90 percent of that back was a Herculean effort by the staff at the BWL and I thank them. Any utility, be it Consumers Energy or the Board of Water and Light faced with these sorts of odds is not going to bring everybody back any more quickly than we have."
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero called the ice storm the "storm of the century," and did his best to reassure a frustrated, and at times noisy, crowd.
"Help is on the way," he said. "We're working very diligently. All hands are on deck to get help. We're not giving up on any family and we're not giving up on any neighborhood."
Demonstrators interrupted Bernero several times, at moments creating a chaos such that the mayor threatened to "evacuate" the press conference.
"If I need to stop this news conference and start again with just the press, I will," he said.
Bernero, along with East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett and Lark, is calling for a comprehensive review of how the storm was handled. Lark says it will be done from "top to bottom," using input from the public and focusing on improving software, communication and social media.
The Lansing City Council has called a special meeting Monday to review and assess the response to the ice storm.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why couldn't BWL request more help sooner?
BWL General Manager Peter Lark says it has to do with procedural protocol. The first priority was to clear downed lines and restore major circuits, which require three-man BWL crews. Additional crews from outside the area must have a BWL member on them, meaning the three-man crews would be "diluted," as Lark put it.
Now that all major circuits are back, Lark says two-man crews can be used for the remainder of the restoration, freeing up locals to accompany the non-local crews.
In what order is power restored?
Lark:"We prioritize based on largest circuits first. So they're circuits that bring the most customers back the most quickly. Those are the ones we start with first.
"We can't say if a specific person is out. What we know is a circuit is out and a smaller circuit and a transformer is out but getting down to the individual home, we can't know that, so we start at the biggest circuits and work down."
Why are crews in and out of neighborhoods without fixing anything?
Lark:"If you see crews in your neighborhood, and they leave and some power is up and other power is not, there are a variety of reasons. But commonly, it could be a transformer out, it could be a pole that's out and there's no point leaving those workers there for three hours til someone can come with a pole and a transformer so we bring crews to other parts of the city and work there and get back to those when we can."
Why hasn't Lansing or East Lansing declared a state of emergency?
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero: "The reason is because it's not called for and it would not help. It wouldn't have changed a thing in this case. It would not have brought us one more lineman. It would not have brought us more power or a day sooner. The state does not have the personnel to bring back power on an emergency basis. The state relies on the same people that Peter Lark and the Board of Water and Light rely on to bring back power. The national guard cannot bring back emergency power restoration. So an emergency declaration would not have solved anything, it would not have expedited anything. If it had, we certainly would have signed that."
East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett: "We've been talking about it since the storm hit, but the fact of the matter is it's the wrong tool for the job. It's like trying to tighten a screw with a hammer. It just won't get us the resources we need. What we need is better communication and more linemen on the ground and a state of emergency won't get us either of those things."