To quote Mendis Cooper, Overton Power District General Manager, it was “a moment of bad luck” when lightning struck a power pole in a substation that supplies electricity to all of Mesquite and Moapa Valley on Sunday afternoon.
The resultant 17-hour power outage was not just bad luck, it was an economic mess for every business and jeopardize people’s health.
While the actual dollars lost to businesses stemming from the “bad luck” will never be known here are a few things to contemplate.
The closest gas stations with power were either at the Paiute Indian reservation 60 miles away or St. George, 35 miles away. All the stations in the outage area rely on electricity to run their pumps and cash registers. Some stations didn’t re-open until after noon on Monday. That’s almost 24 hours of lost revenues on one of the busiest tourist weekends in Mesquite.
That pales in comparison to the lost income and goodwill the three major casino hotels suffered. None of the gaming owners would talk on record to the Mesquite Local News –maybe they were too busy putting their businesses back together to comment – but you can bet their financial hit was extreme.
Even though the casinos have some generator power, it’s not enough to run full tilt, especially for 17 straight hours. Based on last year’s gaming revenue numbers the casinos may have lost about $350,000. Restaurants were unable to serve hot food offering only cold sandwiches and salads. It didn’t take long for even those meager offerings to run out.
On a sold-out weekend, hotel guests had limited power to do anything. Hotel staff could do little but take the brunt of their guests’ ire.
Think about the grocery stores and mom-and-pop restaurants and small businesses who lost 17 hours of revenues. What about the lost tips and wages for workers who rely on them to pay the bills all because of a “moment of bad luck.”
You, as a taxpayer, also took a financial hit. Mesquite Police Department called in two extra officers for six hours. Three day shift officers and three graveyard shift officers spent three extra hours on-duty at time-and-a-half overtime pay.
City employees manned the Emergency Operations Center presumably on overtime. The Fire & Rescue and Public Works Departments called in extra people. Volunteers helped fill in the gaps reducing the number of paid employees working during the “moment of bad luck.”
Many people who use oxygen tanks rely on uninterrupted electricity. Some had gas generators available. Others had to either do without or go to the hospital. That was more than a “moment of bad luck.”
All that because of poor management at OPD and a total lack of oversight and foresight by the Board of Trustees.
While no one can predict a lightning strike, that wasn’t the only cause of the extreme delay in restoring electricity. Mesquite Local News was told that repair workers discovered a second main power pole was dangerously leaning the wrong way when crews showed up to fix the first pole. That added extra hours to the repair work.
It’s our guess the second pole didn’t start its awkward tilt on Sunday afternoon.
This was the second major power outage in 17 months. Floods caused severe damage to the system in September 2014 that left Mesquite without electricity for eight hours.
OPD management and the Board approved a strategic plan earlier this year. Unfortunately, it does nothing to identify critical points of failure in the system and lay out ways to rectify them before a catastrophic loss of power. It does nothing to address the addition of back-up systems to help in these kinds of situations.
Because of mismanagement on the part of OPD staff and the Board over the years, most of a $15 million bond that could have helped fix the systemic problems was spent on other things.
Cooper denies help could have come from Dixie Escalante Power in St. George. What he may have forgotten about was the substation east of Mesquite that OPD used to supply power to Scenic and Littlefield, AZ when Dixie was upgrading its system. With foresight and proper planning the substation could have supplied a partial replacement of the power Mesquite lost.
Yes, a “moment of bad luck” may have started an unfortunate situation. But it’s hard to deny that more could have been done to prevent 17 hours of economic and personal hardship that resulted from poor planning and simple mismanagement.
Perhaps the OPD Board of Trustees will forego their ratepayer-funded trip to Mardi Gras next year, stay home and do their job. Their first task should be to hire competent management that can get its job done.