Blackout lessons
March 2, 2017


Lake Placid wasn't the only place electricity went out Saturday afternoon, Feb. 25. Strong wind gusts and super-heavy, crusty snow brought trees down onto power lines in other places, too. Much of Saranac Lake and outlying communities lost power for a little while that day, but by the evening they were back up and running.

Lake Placid, however, was in the dark all night. Power wasn't restored until late morning to mid-afternoon.

Making things worse, all three roads out of Lake Placid were shut down due to numerous trees falling across them and whiteout-level snowfall that was treacherous to drive in.

The more we look into this, the more believe there's no one to blame. The main power line break was hard to get to, along the railroad tracks between Ray Brook and Lake Placid. The professionals jumped right on it, but it was a difficult repair - and dangerous for the linemen. They made the smart decision to do it the next morning, when it was safer. We certainly are glad to report that no one was hurt as a result of this situation.

Nevertheless, as many people have said, this is not something we want to repeat if we can help it.

The outage's impact was substantial. This tourist town was still packed at the end of a busy Presidents week, which was also winter break for many New York schools. Restaurants took an especially big hit, losing Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast. Hotel managers and staff, meanwhile, had to adapt: encouraging guests to huddle around fires in lobbies, reassuring them that the situation was being handled as well as it could be, and figuring out how to feed everyone.

Lake Placid has, in many ways, more to lose from an overnight power outage than neighboring communities. Yet this incident reminded locals that they are more vulnerable to one than other towns. Lake Placid gets all its electricity from a single line that comes south from Malone and splits east at Lake Colby in Saranac Lake. Another line splits off near there toward Tupper Lake, which used to be power outage capital of the Adirondacks until it got a second line from the west. Now Tupper is on a loop and has much more solid footing on the grid.

Is a second line the answer for Lake Placid? Or is it, as some have suggested, to cut a wider swath of trees in the state Forest Preserve land through which the 1979 line runs along the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Ray Brook's golf course? We're not sure, but this blackout is a good catalyst to start studying those options. Let's also look at other things that make Lake Placid uniquely vulnerable. For instance, all three of its roads in and out are problematic.

We expect Lake Placid officials, who want to host a series of major international winter sports events in the next few years, will take this blackout as a cue to look at upgrading infrastructure.

That said, we were heartened - but not surprised - as the community once again came together at a time of need. AMC Lake Placid kept the emergency room open all night, and the U.S. Olympic Training Center opened its doors as an emergency shelter. Kudos to all, including the highway and electrical crews and fire, police and ambulance volunteers and employees, who kept us safe.


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