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Council discusses return of power to the people

A helicopter prepares to bucket water on the Chetamon wildfire on Sept. 4. | J.Stockfish photo

Jason Stockfish |

In a naturally-lit Quorum room, council met to discuss the power outage in Jasper caused by the Chetamon wildfire during their Sept. 6 meeting.

CAO Bill Given explained that while the fire still burns, it continues to pose no direct risk to the townsite, and the only emergency or challenge the town faces is one of power.

“All critical infrastructure…water, waste water, natural gas (and) cell phone service, to the extent possible, has been maintained, and those have been the first focus of both ATCO and the municipality,” Given said.

ATCO can only inspect and begin repairing the infrastructure under the right conditions, and thanks to the determined and skilled efforts of fire crews in the air and on the ground, and an assist from some rainy weather, efforts to restore power are currently underway.

The power provider is anticipating returning electricity to the grid in the late evening on Sept. 6, with neighbourhoods expected to begin lighting up throughout the night.

This did not occur before publish time.

Once ATCO is able to assess the damage to the transmission line, they will determine how to move forward and they will share that information with the municipality, Given noted.

Mayor Richard Ireland asked members of council to express to the public that when the power does come back on, conserving what energy does return to the grid is essential because the amount of power created by the emergency generators will be very close to the amount Jasper requires.

“Hopefully, people will learn what they can absolutely live without and what they absolutely need and encourage them to make decisions that conserve so that everybody gets some,” Ireland said.

“Because there could be areas of town, neighbourhoods, that are denied power because others are using too much, so it’s a really important consideration to conserve when the power comes back on.”

Given reinforced the message of conservation, explaining that residents and businesses can help power to remain across the grid by not powering non-essential services, such as unnecessary appliances.

There is not an expectation of rolling blackouts, and the intention is to power the enter townsite.

However, if the grid is strained then something will have to give.

In other words, there will be a finite amount of power available for consumption in Jasper for a few days and conservation is key to sustaining it.

Coun. Rico Damota asked if any areas of town receive priority when the power comes back online, as some residents had noted to him that at times certain parts of town have power while others do not.

Given explained that some blocks of town are connected to the same circuit as critical infrastructure, such as the case with those on that share a circuit with the Telus building, or the hospital, police and fire buildings.

People will also notice that some businesses and residents have power when others are without because these properties are running on generators, he added.

As a proactive measure – and not an indication that the situation in Jasper has changed, Given emphasized – sprinklers are being installed on Pyramid Bench where a fire break has been created in recent years.

Coun. Kathleen Waxer asked if the decision to install sprinklers was planned or a decision made in response to the fire.

Given explained that the contractors were in the area already and it made sense to take advantage of them being nearby and available given the current circumstances.

On the suggestion by some in the community that CN can bring in railcars to act as generators for the town, the CAO said that while he is not an expert on the subject, based on the information he has received, the power generated as a result would not be to the scale necessary.

He said that in Quebec during the ice storm, and other notable emergency situations in Canada where trains were used to assist in crises, they were utilized because railways could access the scene when roads could not.

“We have access to the generators, we have ATCO working and they have a full understanding of our needs, and there is no stone to be left unturned,” Given said.

“It really is a matter of first things first and then we’ll build on that core solution when it is in place.”

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