, Newburyport, MA

February 23, 2013

Dark dilemma for Amesbury

Recurring power outages prove frustrating

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Thousands of homes and businesses in the city lost power over the past few days as high winds and equipment malfunctions caused widespread outages along Route 110 and Elm Street both Tuesday and Thursday nights.

On Tuesday at around 8 p.m., 1,800 National Grid customers lost power after a tree limb fell on some wires, which a spokesman for the power company attributed to high winds.

Then on Thursday, a cable malfunction near Elm Street caused 1,900 customers — including all the businesses on Route 110 between Wall’s Ford just across the city line in Salisbury and the new CVS at the intersection of Main Street — to lose power shortly after 4 p.m.

There were also reports of two transformer fires in Amesbury on Tuesday, but National Grid said they were unrelated incidents. Mayor Thatcher Kezer said one of the fires occurred at 100 Macy St. (Route 110) and the other somewhere on Beacon Street.

Thursday’s outage caused major disruptions for the businesses along Route 110.

Amesbury Chevrolet on Route 110 had to close an hour early as a result. Cheri Buchanan, the dealership’s controller, said the business had to switch the phones over to an employee’s iPhone in order to continue taking calls and all transactions had to be done with cash or check since the credit card machines wouldn’t go through.

“We still had customers who were trying to pick up vehicles that were in for service, so we used cell phones and when it got dark, we took a couple of trucks and aimed the lights into the showroom,” Buchanan said.

Amesbury Sports Park on South Hunt Road, not far from Route 110, also lost power on Thursday, along with people living on Main, Elm, Merrimac and Monroe streets, Clarks and Pleasant Valley roads, River Court and at Bartlett’s Reach, among other areas of the city, according to Kezer.

The city has suffered a number of power outages in recent months. It’s become enough cause for concern that officials began looking into the issue after large portions of Amesbury lost power during Hurricane Sandy in October and again after a thunderstorm came through a couple days later.

Kezer said he has been working with National Grid to see if the perception is reality and if Amesbury really does lose power more frequently than other area communities.

“I reached out to National Grid. I spoke to a representative earlier this week and one of the questions I had was what is the percent of time we have outages in Amesbury compared to other places,” Kezer said.

Many residents expressed frustration over the latest series of outages this week, which knocked out the traffic lights at several major intersections, including the Route 110/Elm Street junction.

National Grid spokeswoman Charlotte McCormack said the company has been working to restore power as quickly as possible when outages occur and that the circumstances behind Amesbury’s latest outages aren’t unusual.

“It can happen anywhere, at anytime, especially given the winds we’ve had,” McCormack said. “So that’s not really odd, and cable faults, that’s an infrastructure issue, but that’s not terribly unusual either, but when we have faulty equipment, we get people out there to fix it as soon as possible.”