Storm Central: City leaves nothing to chance

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter It took three tree crews and one huge crane on Friday to remove the 125-foot tree from the roof of Michael and Judit Crow’s house in the 3900 block of 76th Avenue S.E. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter It took three tree crews and one huge crane on Friday to remove the 125-foot tree from the roof of Michael and Judit Crow’s house in the 3900 block of 76th Avenue S.E.
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Every day since the storm began, City Manager Rich Conrad has driven his SUV around the Island. Not just once a day, but three times and perhaps four.

“I just need to go out and check what is actually going on,” Conrad said as he drove the rainy Island streets Friday afternoon, more than a week after the storm.

“I am pretty confident in PSE,” he said. “The quality of information I’ve been getting from PSE is better than (during the storm of) 1993.”

But more than a week after the storm hit, dozens of Islanders were still without power — far too many for Conrad’s liking.

City clerk Ali Spietz was also along for the ride. She brought a log of some 250 calls she had received from Islanders. She wanted to see for herself how the recovery was going so she could relate the progress to callers.

In the latter part of the week, Spietz had many calls from Islanders along East Mercer Way between S.E. 53rd and 68th Streets.

“We tell them, if you are in need of emergency services, we will get them to you,” she said.

Conrad had a map with him, but knew the trouble spots by heart. Many places along East Mercer Way and West Mercer Way at the southern tip of the Island, were hard hit in 1993 too, he said.

It had been a long week.

The city and PSE had been out to clear East and West Mercer ways on the afternoon of Dec. 14, as the first wave of icy wind blew through. City crews and PSE crews worked together to restore power to those important roadways as well as to Island Crest Way.

City crews do not normally assist the power crews in removing downed trees due to safety concerns. But in this situation, the power crews were happy to have the help, Conrad said.

PSE crews would make sure the power lines were not live, then call the city crews following behind with front-loaders, to clear the downed timber.

Before the second wave of wind hit between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. the perimeter of the Island and Island Crest Way were in fairly good shape and open to traffic, Conrad said.

But as the next wave hit, PSE began pulling crews off the Island. Conrad called the utility and asked them to send them back. A crew did arrive and worked to open Island Crest Way in the early hours of Dec. 15.

“We needed to open that roadway to get our emergency crews, fire and police, to Islanders,” he said.

Power was restored on the North end on Sunday evening. Other neighborhoods regained their power in the days following.

“The PSE crews really came through on the schools to get them up and running,” he added.

On the southern end of East Mercer Way on Friday, Conrad was out to make sure the last pockets of dark homes were lit. He circled the Island to talk to the crews personally and ask once again, “how much longer?” Nearly a dozen crews, most of them from Southern California Edison based in Los Angeles, remained on the Island working to get the last trouble spots back up.

Conrad has been frustrated some by some news reports that faulted city policies regarding tree trimming.

“We issue a blanket tree removal permit to PSE to do what they need to do keep the transmission corridors clear. We do not interfere with that,” Conrad said. The city arborist consults with those crews. (See related story on page A-4).

Tree trimming helps, Conrad said, but not so much with a storm of this magnitude. But the real lesson is to rely on yourself in a situation like this, he said. Be prepared for seven to 10 days on your own.
On the web
For more information on storm recovery and services to those who still do not have power, go to

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