Power outages turn on tempers

Albert Williams lost power at his home at 15150 Neabsco Mills Road three times in the last two weeks when construction workers knocked trees into the overhead power lines.

The loss of power wouldn’t be so bad except that Williams cares for his older sister who breathes through a respirator. Without power, the respirator doesn’t work, he said.

Williams said his sister has been using the respirator for about a month and he gets worried when the power goes out.

“She raised me. She’s the only mother I ever knew,” Williams said.

On one occasion, Williams said, he videotaped a heavy equipment operator who knocked a tree into the power lines at the construction site of the county’s newest high school near his home.

“I saw it when it happened,” Williams, 62, said of the trees falling into the electrical lines.

In addition to at least one power outage last week, Williams lost power Wednesday for several hours and again Thursday morning. He said his frustration level is rising.

Andrew Hess, president of Hess Construction Co., which holds the contract to build the school, said his company hired a subcontractor to clear the land.

Hess project manager David Ault said the subcontractor had a run of bad luck.

One of the outages occurred after workers tried to pull some weeds from the guy wires supporting a utility pole. The jostling of the pole tripped a relay down the line, said Ault.

The NOVEC repair costs will not be passed on to the taxpayer, Ault said.

“The subcontractor is going to get a bill from NOVEC (Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative) that he is going to have to eat or turn over to his insurance company,” Ault said.

The previous instances didn’t come to Ault’s immediate attention, he said.

When Ault heard about the outage Thursday, he offered to lend Williams a generator in case of future outages.

Larry Shaffer of NOVEC said it is unusual for trees to fall on power lines while a lot is being cleared, but crews will soon bury the lines at the school construction site and alleviate most of the current problems.

Shaffer said provisions are in place to ensure the safety of customers who depend on medical equipment.

“We have a program through NOVEC where [customers] can have their doctors send us a letter explaining their medical condition. If the power goes out, the system will flag that account a special status,” Shaffer said.

“Generally we’ll pick up the phone and call them,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said the customers can use the information about the length of the power outage to make arrangements for their loved ones.

Williams has been advised of his options, Shaffer said.

“NOVEC has been very cooperative,” Williams said after his initial frustration.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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