Day after day, Westport Island waited in darkness

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 11:45am

    A sturdy bridge has withstood all types of weather to connect Westport Island with the mainland. But the same could not be said for the island’s main power and telephone lines, brought down by the strong winds during the storm early on Monday, Oct. 30.

    “We had periods of heavy gusts and we were paged out for a tree down at the intersection of Main and Fox Run roads,” said Chief Robert Mooney of the Westport Volunteer Fire Department.  

    “There is one line to Wiscasset and the tree took that line down,” explained Westport’s Emergency Management Agency Director Roger Higgins.

    The fire department page at 5:30 Monday morning signaled the start of a long, trying week for the 714 year-round residents.

    First, the same tree that brought down the only power and phone connection to the island fell in a location that made access to the bridge dangerous. “If a tree goes down on the first half-mile on the island, you can’t get off the island,” Higgins said.

    “We had to close the road and place barricades because the live wires there posed a life hazard,” Mooney explained.  Disregarding the risk, some island residents drove around the wires to go to work on the mainland or to seek shelter elsewhere.

    Higgins and Town Clerk Gaye Wagner, who is also assistant EMA director, traveled the roads to check on residents and document the more than 75 downed trees and significant property damage.

    Wagner also valiantly tackled her town clerk responsibilities, explaining in an email, “I'm trying with limited data to get some messages out from home. The small generator at the town office which really only keeps the lights on ... is kaput for now.”

    The fire department was a warming station, providing potable water, showers and a place to cook food and charge devices. It was open 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and used 59 times during the week.

    Mooney and Higgins praised the Lincoln County EMA and the Communications Center for their leadership during the week. Conference calls for emergency personnel were held twice each day to update information and share concerns.

    WVFD had to wait until power crews verified the lines were dead before dealing with the fallen trees. And no ambulance could access the length of the island until the lines had been cleared and fallen trees removed.

    “We had one or two medical calls early in the week, but no one had to be transported,” Mooney said.

    Crews from New York, New Jersey and West Virginia arrived and began tackling the downed lines. Phone service was restored mid-week.

    At the selectmen’s meeting on Monday evening, Nov. 6, Mooney said most residents had power back. He said he understood everyone’s impatience in having power restored, but local emergency personnel are required to follow the power company’s lead. “It’s their emergency plan,” he said. “(Central Maine Power) is the driver.”

    The fire department will hold a meeting for all island residents Thursday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. downstairs at the fire house. There will be a question and answer session and an opportunity for residents to give their input.