Ice Storm Editorial: Bury the Damn Power Lines Already!

Ice Storm Editorial: Bury the Damn Power Lines Already!

Ace February 20, 2003

State of Emergency

I think the worst is over… unless we have more snow.

-Gov. Patton, circa mid 90s

It was the morning after the weather prognosticators all ran a brilliant prediction of a “light dusting” and we woke up to 17 inches of snow.

Yeah. We got snow. Then we got ice. Then we got more snow. Then sub-zero temps.

We lost power. We lost mail. We lost money and business. We lost our minds.

Which is a roundabout way of saying: inclement weather in Kentucky is not exactly without precedent.

Everybody from city to state wrung their hands and said: Never again.

It looks like Never’s back.

Every time this happens, a crew of bureaucrats and utility geniuses huddle together for a photo op, wearing concerned expressions and looking puzzled–like somebody just dropped a safe on their heads.

When you watch a city’s infrastructure crumble the way it has this week (and at least a dozen other times in the last decade or so, to varying degrees, when less than ideal weather has shut the place down), you can almost understand those hordes of hysterical idiots who rush up and down the aisles at the grocery every time a cloud appears in the sky, frantically scooping $3000 worth of bread and milk into their carts.

Crazy? Yeah. Crazy like a fox maybe. Maybe their memories are longer than ours. Because, right now, they don’t seem so hysterical.

Watch out for that reciprocating bla… Ooh. That had to hurt.


Contrary to the current image on our license plates, here’s a news flash: we do not, in fact, live in the sunshine state.

Snow and ice are reasonable expectations from December through March (and they have been known to wreck Keeneland and even Derby).

Global warming isn’t kicking in FAST enough to be viewed as any REAL solution, so, short term: GET THE POWER ON!! Long term: KEEP it on.

Surely there are options that could be pursued.

Without an engineering degree, it’s difficult to say for certain, but we’ve all heard of places like Chicago (for example) that manage to maintain power, despite lake effect snows and subzero temps.

If you can imagine.

According to a December article in The Charlotte Observer, “Zoning laws that took effect in 1992 require all new subdivisions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg to bury power lines.”

Granted, burying power lines won’t guarantee immunity from the weather, but it helps. (And who wants to look at either unsightly poles or the hatchet jobs the utility companies do on your trees anyway? A process that’s obviously met with RAGING success as we can all see this week.)

Yeah. Green space is great. We all love to hug a tree now and then. But there are cities that have managed to make sustainable, civilized living (indoor plumbing, electricity, HBO, the works) compatible with foliage.


God knows we’ve paid for enough stupid studies to sink a barge over the years and blown enough money on them to send the entire town to Harvard. How ’bout buyin’ some information with some RELEVANCE?

Given that inclement weather is not unheard of, could we maybe come up with something remotely resembling a plan?

See. In Florida– where people inexplicably insist on living — they have a little weather problem known as hurricanes. They even have a catchy name: “hurricane season.” They also have construction codes that improve the chances of their structures withstanding hurricane force winds.

Out West, there’s a zone called “Tornado Alley.” There, they bury their power lines. And they dive for the cellars when the twisters come through. Which they always do. That’s why it’s called Tornado Alley. Same thing with flood plains.

See. They call ’em natural disasters. They can even call ’em “catastrophes,” which is how KU describes this week. But they don’t call ’em a SURPRISE.

Downtown and in Chevy Chase, rumors are circulating wildly about who may or may not have seen a utility truck. Like the first robin of spring, we’re all scanning-in futility-for that flash of red.

Our sports writer is holed up in Frankfort, where he has cable and is watching the press conferences.

He emailed this dispatch in this morning, “the KU guy is getting more and more testy. I am waiting for someone in the press corp to yell, ‘you suck’ at any point now.”

One can only hope.

Another staffer suggested that “volunteer resources have not been appropriately mobilized.”

That’s not how he put it.

In fact, he used a lot of profanity, commensurate with the fact that he is staying at his parents’ house, and his mother is folding his laundry. But his point was: there are a LOT of people in town right now who don’t have to go to school, or work. Let ’em help.

Up until yesterday, the Herald-Leader was reporting cheery headlines of Neighbors Helping Neighbors above the fold. Nice. Folksy. Whatever. (Today’s headlines were a little itchier, and used words like “unacceptable…” Yeah. Ya THINK!)

Most people are justifiably pissed off. We want answers.

There is no way to un-ring this bell, just as there will be no way to calculate the actual damage done.

As difficult as it is to prove a negative, it’s harder still to measure one.

How many people didn’t come into your store, or your restaurant, or establishment? Who knows?

Even in a robust economy, a lot of small businesses still live on day-by-day revenue. How many Mom and Pop shops can survive closing their doors for four or five days because the power’s off?

Banana Republic and the Gap and Home Depot are ALL gonna pull through.

Let’s worry about those a little closer to home. Let’s worry about the hourly-wage workers who can’t replace that income when they get a “snow day.”

By next week, almost everybody will be back to complaining about the proposed smoking ban and what’s left of the water company debate.

Now might be a good time to stop the machinery, kick the tires, and see if there isn’t room for some improvement.

Maybe we could pause to ask: what if an ice storm blew in and a UK home game was scheduled? Hard to say, but odds are, problems WOULD get solved, even if it meant Lee Todd had to land a C130 Hercules on Vine Street, dispatching light utility vehicles, generators, fuel, and the opposing team. Mitch Barnhart would supervise aerial command, with Hueys touching down in the Cox Street parking lot, where they would supply beer and telecommunications to the masses. Add in a few Black Hawks and Apaches, and we can all agree that nothing takes the wind out of a Blue Devil offense quite like the prospect of a hellfire missile circling overhead. No need to worry about attendance. The fans will figure out a way to get there, whether it’s by rickshaw, gondola, or dogsled.

In other words, when the city needs to get the job done, they figure out a way.

The Powers that Be need to feel our Needs.

We pay a HEFTY price for the joys of living in Lexington (take a look at the school tax item on your utility bills). It shouldn’t be seen as too whiny if we expect certain amenities (like electricity) to accompany our tithes. If we wanted to live in Little House on the @#*$(*# Prairie, we’d all go build a cabin somewhere.

Call KU. Call LFUCG. Call the Public Service Commission.