Archive for Thursday, August 30, 2001

In the dark with a new community

Editor discovers batteries not included can be a curse

August 30, 2001

It is my displeasure to be writing this weekly column for a second time. Sunday, I forgot to hit the save command while writing my column. I'm not mentioning any names, but in the community where I live (Baldwin), that's as foolhardy as carrying a bucket of chum in Florida's costal waters.

To put it kindly, Baldwin has a bit of a problem with its city-owned electrical utility. The wise resident assumes the electricity will fail during a storm of moderate severity. It is also safe to assume the power will shut down for no apparent reason on the calmest of days.

I'm regularly greeted by blinking lights on the microwave, phone answering machine, VCR, alarm clock, thermostat and assorted electronic devices when I return home in the evening.

In Baldwin, we rank our power outages. Sunday's was memorable, but pales in comparison to the leader on the freezer defrost scale a 1998 mid-day eight-hour failure during the Fourth of July weekend cost the city businesses a bundle. Enough food was chucked that day to fill a disaster relief plane.

I'm a bit of an outsider concerning the causes of the city's chronic electrical problems.

My overall impression is that the city is over its head. It's kind of like dealing with an incompetent convenient store clerk struggling to make change. It's so embarrassing to watch you keep murmuring encouragement.

Ironically, my in-laws from California visited Baldwin this last week. Earlier this year, they were subject to rolling blackouts as the state dealt with its electrical power outage. We were lucky we didn't have to deal with those, they said.

We all have our problems. Eudora residents complain about bumpy streets and those in De Soto grumble about bumpy streets and brown water.

I know something about brown water, too. It filled my basement Friday night when a storm predictably knocked out the electricity and the sump pump for four hours. That in turn, somehow, shut down the air conditioning for the remainder of the weekend.

During Sunday's blackout, I decided to visit my predecessor in this position, Jackie Hosey, who moved to Baldwin over the weekend. She'd been warned about the city's electrical problems but was still taken aback by what was then a 90-minute blackout on a calm day.

We walked our dogs to High Street across from the power plant. The power plant was the place to be. It drew pickup trucks like a porch lamp draws moths. All that expertise was reassuring to the pedestrians that gathered nearby, despite the fact that downtown remained dark and all the businesses were buttoned up.

An hour after I got home, power was restored and the familiar reprogramming routine started.

The city recently put up one new sign on the western approach to downtown. Ugly during the day, the sign lights up beautifully at night. I assume they have a battery backup.

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