Central Maine Power Co. vehicles wait to be dispatched from a makeshift command center in the Harpswell town office parking lot. (Photo courtesy of Art Howe)

HARPSWELL —  Nearly a week after a Nor’easter pummeled the Midcoast with high winds and heavy rain, most residents can turn their lights back on. But in Harpswell, five days after the storm, outages lingered. 

According to Central Maine Power Co.’s outages list, as of Monday morning, 83 Harpswell residents were still without electricity out of the town’s 4,646 CMP customers. In the immediate wake of the storm, nearly all of those customers had been in the dark. It was the last significant cluster of outages CMP hadn’t resolved by Monday, a reflection of the difficulties of utilities infrastructure along narrow roads that access the cluster of thin peninsulas that form Harpswell.

Power was fully restored this morning.

Central Maine Power reported early Monday afternoon that it had essentially completed its response to the storm as its total number of outages dropped to below 200, which the company says is a typical amount, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Arthur Howe, Harpswell’s fire administrator and emergency management agent, said CMP’s response in Harpswell showed a vast improvement from its response to the wind storm of October 2017.

“In the October 2017 storm we had 100 percent power loss, and this time we had 95 percent power loss,” said Howe. “The restoration time has been much better than two years ago. They’re better organized than they were two years ago.”

Howe credited the improved restoration time to the addition of a “CMP liaison” in Windham, who has helped coordinate the response.

He said CMP has also been using the Harpswell town office as a command center and staging center since Friday afternoon. 

After the October 2017 storm, it took about a week for power to finally be restored in Harpswell, only for residents on Bailey Island to once again be plunged into darkness when a second windstorm knocked over the power lines leading into the island. The power lines, supported by poles coming out of the water next to the Cribstone Bridge connecting Orr’s and Bailey islands had fallen into the water. CMP crews were faced with the difficult task of resetting the poles, which could only be done at low tide. The company was able to restore power the day after the poles went down. 

After that event, CMP organized a project to run the power lines under the Cribstone Bridge instead of on fixed poles in the water in an effort to prevent future wind storm power outages on Bailey Island

According to Catherine Hartnett, communications manager for CMP, the project is scheduled to begin before the end of the year and be completed in 2020. 

The October 2017 storm inspired Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, to draft a bill that would improve recovery efforts after storms cause power outages. The final version of the bill a comprehensive plan that addresses the management, staffing and contracted services needed to help roads stay open and power stay on during emergency situations. The bill was signed into law in May. 

McCreight said she knew a law was needed when she saw her neighbors cutting trees with downed power lines on them in order to clear the roads. 

“When people take things into their own hands, that’s dangerous,” said McCreight. “I represent my district, and my district wasn’t safe. Something needed to be done. This wasn’t a partisan issue, it was a safety issue.”

McCreight lost power after Wednesday’s storm and got it back Sunday afternoon. She said wherever she goes people are talking about the power outages and asking one another if they have their power back. 

“This isn’t going to be the last big storm,” said McCreight. 

Hartnett said Harpswell is a challenge for CMP line crews because the town’s long, narrow roads don’t give the crews much room to work.

“Trying to manipulate heavy trucks and equipment in that area is difficult,” said Hartnett. 

According to Howe, about 85 percent of Harpswell’s roads are private, meaning those roads don’t have to meet the dimension requirements set by the town that allows equipment like emergency vehicles to travel on them. 

Hartnett said the type of soil found in Harpswell plays a role in power outages as well. 

“The coastal area has very thin topsoil, so trees don’t break, they get uprooted in strong winds,” said Hartnett. 

Hartnett said CMP crews tried to prioritize occupied homes over seasonal homes.

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