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‘The big blackout of ’93’

‘Big’ columns of late: big flood, big freeze

The front page of the Enterprise, Tuesday, October 5, 1993.

That was the headline on the Enterprise of Oct. 5, 1993, with the subhead, “Power tower topples near Malone, leaving thousands in the dark.”

The story, bylined “By The Enterprise Staff,” covered a good 80% of page 1. Again, the following excerpts will cover the story in this small space, with maybe some loss of continuity but by picking what I think are the most pertinent paragraphs.

“Thousands of residents were left with only sporadic electrical power this morning after a major two-pole transformer line went down just south of Malone, affecting Niagara Mohawk and municipal customers alike.

“Residents from Sevey’s Corners in the town of Colton to Paul Smiths to AuSable Forks and in the entire Tri-Lakes region were affected by the blackout that left residences in the dark and searching for flashlights, candles and batteries in cupboards and closets.

“Power went out at about 4:55 p.m. Monday, and Niagara Mohawk crews from the Tri-Lakes, Watertown, Potsdam and Malone searched the 40-mile line to pinpoint the cause of the power failure, according to Robert MacIntire, Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. district manager. He said crews were able to locate the downed line within an hour and began to make repairs.

Main Street in Lake Placid 27 years ago looks exactly like it did 27 minutes ago.

“The cause of the power failure was a washed-out, 75-foot high, two-pole structure transformer which is located in the area of Owl’s Head south of Malone, MacIntire said.

“Although there has been some speculation that an overflowing beaver dam caused the power tower to wash out, MacIntire said crews are still investigating the incident. …

“During the night, as customers received interval-timed electricity, MacIntire said crews were able to set up a tie at 7:30 p.m. with the New York State Electric and Gas Corp. to allow 46,000 volts of electricity to flow to the affected areas.

“However, the power was not nearly enough to feed to all residents so there was a coordinated effort to give different sections about an hour of electricity … (so) customers were guaranteed some heat intermittently through the night. …

“Although Lake Placid and Tupper Lake residents are served by municipal power companies, they were affected by the outage because they are dependent on the lines to bring the electricity to their villages, MacIntire said.”

No major problems

“Police and fire departments in the Tri-Lakes reported no incidents due to the power failure. Also state police in Ray Brook and Tupper Lake noted no problems. …

“The Adirondack Medical Center reported no problems in dealing with the outage. ‘When the blackout occurred, the generators kicked in automatically. We had no problems,’ said Adirondack Medical Center spokeswoman Cheryl Breen.

“For local schools this morning, students in the Tupper Lake district were told to come in at 10 for the high school and 10:45 for elementary and in the Saranac Lake district, no delays were needed.

“In Lake Placid, however, schools were closed because of a lack of proper heating, school officials said. Both North Country Community College and Paul Smith’s College classes were running on schedule this morning.”

Candlelight dinners

“It was impromptu candlelight dinners around the Tri-Lakes, both in private residences and at local establishments. At the Hotel Saranac, some customers quipped that they should have ordered their hamburgers rare, rather than well done, in hopes they would be completed before the next outage took place. …

“Another resilient group, local bartenders, placed candles in their windows, denoting the fact that they were still open — despite the lack of electricity. …

“There was a run on candles, lanterns, fast foods and other items all across the Tri-Lakes as the outage ran on. Some businesses were able to stay open with the aid of their own generators; others stayed open by candlelight.”

Power was restored on Tuesday by a temporary fix to get the main line back in service. Crews managed to prop up the main structure using tank-like cranes and diggers while about 15 to 20 workers continued to make repairs.

Did the beaver do the damage?

“Some local officials may be getting the feeling of deja vu if speculation about an overflowing beaver dam being the cause of Monday’s downed Malone power transmitter proves true.

“Two years ago to the week, Franklin County and area town officials found the infrastructure in their region in dire need of repairs due to dam building by beavers. In early October 1991, town of Franklin Highway Superintendent John Moore noted that at least a dozen bridges and culverts in his town were in imminent danger of being washed out. Moore had complained that needed repairs were being delayed because of the long waiting period for Adirondack Park Agency permits to blow up the dams or trap and move the beavers.”

When I was village manager of Saranac Lake, now more than 20 years ago, beavers were causing damage by building a dam in a small stream on village property that ran past the village garage on Van Buren Street. It would eventually have caused damage to Upper Broadway and to private homes in that area. I was informed that a couple of brothers who worked for the village highway department were somewhat experts on beavers. Then a very strange thing happened. Within about a week, those beavers had all died of lead poisoning.

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