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Get a day off from work and the power goes off

It’s beginning to look like a trend.

Sylvania celebrates a major holiday and the power goes out. For hours.

On Thanksgiving Day, half the city was without electricity for three hours, during prime turkey-cooking time. And on Saturday, July Fourth, the entire city was without power for nearly four hours, during the hottest part of the day.

It’s a problem that occurs on more than just major holidays in Sylvania. City Manager Carter Crawford said during a city council meeting Tuesday night that Sylvania has had 47 power outages during the first six months of 2009.

Some of those were for two or three houses. Some lasted only a few minutes. Fourteen of them were caused by trees or limbs falling and another 14 were caused by squirrels, birds or other animals.

“The city has received numerous complaints about the frequency of power outages,” Crawford said.

On Saturday, residents flooded phone lines at the police department, where after-hour calls about utility outages go. In addition to missing air conditioning and the ability to cook, people who have their own wells and septic tanks are unable to flush their toilets without electricity.

At Thanksgiving, city officials said a squirrel wandered onto a power line, causing two main breakers to trip. Heavy usage for heat and cooking made the system more time consuming and difficult to repair, they said. Then-City Councilman Jeremy Hill took his family to eat at Huddle House because they had no power at their home.

On July Fourth, the problem was at a MEAG Power sub station, not city equipment, Crawford said.

“A component blew out,” he said – a “current transformer.” Heavy usage had no part in the outage. “There was no particular reason for it to blow. It could be wear. No animals” were involved in this outage.

When the transformer blew, it created a ball of fire that caused power to shut down, protecting the rest of the equipment in the sub station, said Gary Schaeff, vice president over the transmission group for MEAG in Atlanta. He said equipment wears out and the outage had nothing to do with a heavy load on the holiday.

“Over time, the equipment will fail,” he said. “It doesn’t last forever. Why it picked that time, I don’t know. Usage didn’t have anything to do with it.”

The city’s entire electrical crew – five people – and another four workers from water and sewer who are cross-trained, scrambled to help workers from MEAG and Georgia Power fix the outage, Crawford said. “I saw at least nine of our employees there,” he said.

Crawford said after the outage Saturday, city workers were reminded that they need to let customers such as the grocery stores, the hospital and senior homes know as soon as possible an estimated time for power to be restored.

The city council may consider taking some action to reduce outages. The city already has budgeted $192,000 to install “reclosure” switches that would reduce and shorten the number of outages.

And the city might consider adding two more employees to help keep power right-of-ways clear of tree limbs, Crawford said. He suggested the city council also might consider asking volunteers to trap and relocate some of the squirrels in Sylvania.

“In order to provide good quality service to customers, we need to address squirrels and tree limbs,” he said.

On July Fourth, Crawford said he was “doing absolutely nothing,” watching TV, when the power went out at about 4 p.m. He said his wife wanted a milk shake, so they drove to the Dairy Queen in Millen. Then he sat outside and read until the power was restored.

Harvey’s, which has a generator that powers cash registers and emergency lighting, remained open during the outage, said store Manager Jackie Collier. Workers pulled plastic covers over the open cooler shelves that hold such things as milk and cheese. He said the store didn’t have air conditioning, but it didn’t get hot.

He said there were only a handful of customers during that time and that the outage was “not a big deal.”

The outage also didn’t seem to dampen spirits on the first day of business at Sylvania’s new skating rink. J&T Family Skating Fun, which is in the shopping center that used to house Matt Gay Chevrolet, closed for the hours the power was off and reopened when the power came back on again, said A.J. Trimble, general manager.

The rink needs power for lights, music, air conditioning and operation of its concession stands. When the power came on again, about 250 people came to skate.

“Maybe it (the outage) made it (business) a little bit better,” Trimble said. “People wanted something to do fun.”

Trimble said he was pleased with the turnout. “It was a good turnout. We were happy. Everyone had a good time.”