Pemberton better like its ice cream - residents may have to eat it up before it melts in their freezers during a planned power outage this Sunday.
Pemberton council is livid with BC Hydro and its plans to cut power to 2,900 residents on Sept. 26 from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., as the power authority repairs two 30 kV insulators at the Pemberton substation. The power outage is expected to impact anyone living in the Pemberton Valley, right up to D'Arcy.
BC Hydro has also planned preventative maintenance work on some switches - work that was planned for last year but cancelled when an employee got electricity through his body.
But that's not the only outage planned for the Spud Valley.
BC Hydro will cut power to Pemberton again on Oct. 6 and 7 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This outage is expected to impact 500 customers and will take place as the authority changes out some poles and installs switches along the power lines in the valley.
The plan has left people incensed about the impacts the outages will have on residents and businesses.
Paul Vacirca, president of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce, told council at a Sept. 21 meeting that losses for businesses this Sunday alone could total as much as $175,000. He added that the chamber only got 12 days' notice when they expected 30 business days.
"Something of this size and scope within less than 12 days for us is very odd to me," he said. "It's very disconcerting how they would plan this so last minute and so abruptly and so widespread without any consultation with the Village of Pemberton, the regional district. It's very disconcerting why there was no contact."
Vacirca found many a supporter on council. Just about everyone at the table related similar frustrations with the power authority.
"We have not had a good working relationship with BC Hydro," said Councillor Ted Craddock. "People forget it's not just businesses, but households do not have hot water. They can't make breakfast for the kids, the health centre's got a huge cost.
"There's just so many issues that Hydro is not coming to the plate. They've basically said, too bad Pemberton, too bad SLRD, we really don't care, and that's not acceptable."
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy added there's another safety issue associated with the town's water supply. He said pumps that refill the reservoir will not be working during the power outage and that a fire incident can drain the reservoir in an hour or two.
Council members wonder why the work can't be done at night, while people are sleeping and there isn't as much disruption to businesses. Officials said as much at a SLRD board meeting on Sept. 20.
Arlene Shwetz, community relations manager for BC Hydro, said the repairs are necessary at those times in order to maximize worker safety.
"If you're replacing a pole, for example, it has to be done in daylight," she said. "Again, it all comes down to the safety of our crews and contractors."
Shwetz hit back at allegations that BC Hydro doesn't care about the impacts of its work on local businesses.
She also said that the 30 days' notice isn't a policy, but an internal practice it tries to maintain. In this case BC Hydro got confirmation of work on the substation on Sept. 13 and she notified the SLRD and Mayor Sturdy that very evening. The power outages on Oct. 6 and 7 were confirmed on Monday.
"It seems the public are more accepting of an unplanned outage," she said. "We are very conscious that people have businesses, sensitive equipment in their homes, computers, televisions, that's why we try and give notification. So it's not something that we take lightly, because we know there's an impact on businesses and residents in their every day living."
Shwetz said she was "disappointed" to hear Pemberton officials saying that the power authority has taken a "too bad" attitude to the community's concerns.
"I did speak with (Councillor) Susie Gimse, I also spoke to Jordan Sturdy, I spoke to (Paul Vacirca), the president of the Chamber of Commerce," she said. "I don't feel that anyone that I spoke to in terms of speaking to any of the elected officials, they were given a 'too bad' attitude. That is not the attitude we're taking with this."
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