RICHMOND — A triple threat of hundreds of dead trees, more frequent severe weather, and the town’s position at the end of National Grid’s transmission lines could mean a tough winter for Richmond residents.
Emergency Management Director Joseph Arsenault told the Town Council at a workshop before Tuesday’s council meeting that Richmond is facing a winter of power outages caused by trees falling on power lines.
Because there is no National Grid substation in Richmond, Arsenault said, electricity must travel considerable distances from several substations, a fact that many residents in the audience found surprising.
“If you live the Old Mountain Road area, it comes from West Greenwich, Hopkins Hill Road, right near the old G Tech,” he explained. “If you live on Switch Road, your power comes from Charlestown on the other side of Wood River on Shumankanuc Hill and if you live anywhere in the Valley Lodge area where our [town] well is, it’s actually the Chase Hill substation now, on Ashaway Road in Hopkinton, and the last one is, we share two feeder lines coming in from the Kenyon Hill substation, which is on Shannock Road in Charlestown down near the Nordic Lodge.”
The most pressing issue for Richmond, Arsenault said, is that the town is at the end of every transmission line, which means that power is restored there last.
“When they start restoration of power, they start at the substations and they work their way up,” he said. “They actually start at transmission lines that come down from Warwick and Providence, obviously, and then they move on to the substations and if the substations are OK, they start on the primary feeders and they work off of them and they eventually get the secondaries and low levels, and that’s usually why we’re last.”
Richmond, which was one of the towns hardest hit by the gypsy moth infestation, has experienced more power outages caused by windstorms toppling dead oak trees.
“We’re seeing power outages at a greater rate every year,” he said. “We’re experiencing more days without electricity in our community, and as you’re aware, 90 percent of our town is on private wells, so when you don’t have electricity, you don’t have water.”
Arsenault said there had been some severe windstorms in the fall. “We had a few freak windstorms that happened in October and we had people without power for three to four days,” he said.
During prolonged power outages, the town opens the fire hydrant at Chariho Plaza, where residents can collect water for bathing and flushing their toilets. That water has not been deemed safe for drinking.
It is important for residents to stockpile sufficient quantities of water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends one gallon of water per day per person, but homeowners on wells need at least three gallons per person per day. Arsenault also encouraged residents to collect and use dirty, or gray, water during an outage.
“You don’t have to have fresh water to flush your toilets,” he said. “You can use pool water, you can use hot tub water … you can use pond water, stream water. You don’t have to have nice, perfectly clean water.”
In winter, when staying warm is a primary concern during an outage, the town has several daytime warming shelters: at the Senior Center over the police station, the Town Hall and Clark Memorial Library, and for outages lasting more than a couple of days, Chariho Middle School.
Arsenault said he hoped that more residents would buy generators and have them professionally installed. “Living in a rural area, having a generator wired in is probably a wise investment,” he said.
Town Council President Richard Nassaney said residents should be better prepared for weather emergencies.
“People need to be a little more prepared, whether they have the ability to buy a generator or not,” he said. “If they can, they need to, and understand that the town is doing everything in its power to mitigate the tree problem, but nature is a lot bigger and stronger than we are, so we have to try to stay ahead.”
Despite an additional $10,000 in this year's tree-clearing budget, Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber has repeatedly warned the council that $35,000 is not nearly enough to remove all the trees that are in danger of falling on the town’s roads. National Grid crews are currently in Richmond removing dead trees, but only those within 20 feet of power lines. The remaining trees are the responsibility of the town and property owners.
Residents should also remove dead trees on their own properties, and Arsenault suggested that homeowners check with their insurance companies to see if hazardous tree removal is covered in their policies.
“If you have trees on your property that are dead, you need to get hold of an arborist or a licensed tree service because one of the problems we’re going to start seeing is, some residents are going to have trees on their private property dropping into the roads,” Arsenault said.
Councilor Nell Carpenter said she wondered whether the state might provide financial assistance to the town for tree removals, since it is also last to have power restored.
“Is it possible that we could be priority for tree removal, considering that we’re getting it on the the back end here?" she asked.
The town should be planning now, Arsenault said, to allocate considerably more funds to its tree budget.
“You should be thinking about a very large sum of money to try to start mitigating some of these trees next summer when we have a big cutting season, because this is when they’re going to be coming down … I think sooner or later, it’s going to become a disaster.”
Nassaney said, “We’re going to be dealing with this for a few more years and it’s not going to be pretty.”