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Accident cuts power, services in Pagosa

A semitrailer drove beneath aerial power and fiber optic lines, snagging the lines with its load, and knocking down and breaking three utility poles early Monday morning behind the Sonoco gas station in the 700 block of San Juan Street, causing power and telecommunication outages in the community.

The semitrailer was privately owned by Lon Peterson of Pagosa Springs, according to Floyd Capistrant of the Pagosa Springs Police Department.

Peterson, who had a flatbed with a large piece of equipment on it attached to his semi, was dropping a friend off, then traveling home when he noticed the lines down after driving under them. Peterson called 911, Capistrant reported.

Archuleta County Combined Dispatch received the call reporting the downed poles shortly after 1 a.m. Monday, according to Mike Alley, line superintendent for La Plata Electric Association.

An aerial fiber-optic line containing 96 fibers that feed the downtown area was cut by the semitrailer’s load, said Randy Hall, area operations manager for southern Colorado for Century Link (formerly CenturyTel).

The cut affected 911 operations, the link between 731 and 264 prefixes, long distance capabilities, some Internet service and most Verizon cell phone service.

Residents in the western portion of the county with 731 prefixes and all cell phone customers were unable to call 911, causing Emergency Operations to establish an alternative emergency number, 731-5911, to serve during the outage, said Drew Peterson, Emergency Services Coordinator of Archuleta County.

Calls from the 264 prefix went to Central Dispatch, where emergency calls are normally fielded.

Ordinarily, in local 911 outages, the system automatically reroutes to a different 911 center, but, “for some reason, that didn’t happen,” Peterson said.

Peterson noted that officials then had to put out civil warnings through a variety of sources to inform people of the alternative number, as well as position people at the Emergency Operations Center (where the alternate line was routed), fire department, the hospital and EMS, where people may have tried to call in an emergency.

Internet capabilities, save connections from satellite providers, was also affected.

Rick Graybill, Public Affairs Manager for Century Link, reported 5,074 residential and business customers were affected

“That’s over half of our customers in Pagosa Springs,” Graybill said.

Verizon also uses the fibers for wiring information to reception towers and the cut meant no information was getting to the towers, Peterson explained.

Pagosa Springs has no resident fiber splicer.

The fiber splicer used to repair the cable — a contract splicer from JKL, a company based in Dolores — was already scheduled to be in Pagosa Springs for the day.

Graybill mentioned that the splicer was in town about 6:30 a.m., but had to wait five or six hours for LPEA to fix a severed power line to make the site safe before he could begin splicing the fibers.

The severed power line led to a power outage for 79 LPEA customers, according to a press release.

Alley noted that LPEA had nine crew members on the scene, the first of which arrived at 2 a.m., and added he had to pick some of them up at their homes, as he was unable to reach them by phone.

Power was restored at approximately 9:40 a.m. Monday.

All service was restored Monday evening.

It is estimated that expenses for Century Link were at least $35,000, but a final number was not available at press time Wednesday.

Steve Gregg, manager of operations for LPEA, said the co-op’s estimated expenses were $21-22,000.

Costs incurred by Archuleta County (sheriff’s office, dispatch, 911 and government offices) were minimal, but “you have lots of productivity and I don’t know how you measure that,” Peterson said.

The outage also affected downtown banking and businesses.

Jennette Martinez, branch manager at Bank of The San Juans, reported the bank’s ATM was down and that staff had one working cell phone to call the Durango branch to check accounts and balances. Workers at the bank wrote down all transactions and closed the business day closed at 2 p.m. in order to pass the information for the day on to Durango, though the lobby was kept open until 5 p.m.

Bob Goodman, of Goodman’s Department Store, noted that his staff took credit card information manually, but said that doing so costs the business profits because credit card companies see manual transactions as problematic and charge more for them.

City Market was able to use a backup system for their credit card customers, but had problems with EBT cards (food stamps), said Lisa Perez, customer relations manager.

randi@pagosasun.com