Pike County judge-executive in Kentucky blames recent outages on ‘neglect’ of electric utility

Monday, January 11, 2010

Kentucky county judge chides electric utility

PIKEVILLE, Ky. — A judge-executive in eastern Kentucky is criticizing a power utility for “pure neglect” he said led to widespread outages during a recent winter storm.

Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne Rutherford said Kentucky Power Co. has not done an adequate job of clearing tree growth around power lines in right of way areas.

“Everyone in this county has noticed for years that the power company has neglected to clear their rights of way near the power lines,” Rutherford wrote in a letter last week to the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

Rutherford said over half the county lost power during the mid-December storm, which knocked out electricity to 100,000 homes across eastern Kentucky. Officials in neighboring Letcher County have also complained about right of way maintenance by Kentucky Power in the wake of the December storm.

The heavy snow and ice buckled branches and trees, sending them crashing into power lines across the area.

Kentucky Power spokesman Ronn Robinson said Monday that he had not seen Rutherford’s letter but said the utility, a unit of American Electric Power, spends millions of dollars each year clearing the rights of way.

“In eastern Kentucky it’s a challenge to maintain right of ways. It’s predominantly rural, it’s heavily forested,” Robinson said. Robinson said many of the outages were caused by trees that fell from outside the right of way areas around power lines.

Rutherford said many Pike County residents had their food supplies spoil when the power went down, in some homes for 10 days.

“Can you imagine the amount of food lost?” Rutherford wrote in the letter. He said he is “hopeful a class action lawsuit will be filed on behalf of the Pike County families who lost all their food.”

Robinson declined to comment on any potential legal actions.

Public Service Commission spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said in an e-mail that the agency is responding to resident concerns by conducting an “onsite review by members of our engineering inspection staff.” He said any further action would be determined after that evaluation is done.

In Letcher County a grand jury is being assembled to look into whether Kentucky Power could have done more to prevent widespread electrical outages during the storm. Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison Banks said he received complaints from residents that said Kentucky Power wasn’t doing enough to keep electrical line rights of way cleared of trees.

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