FRANKFORT, Ky. -- It's the trees. Nestled in north-central Kentucky, the densely wooded Camelot subdivision of Bardstown, Ky., often found trees or broken limbs falling on its overhead power lines during storms, leaving the subdivision in the dark. The City of Bardstown was repeatedly forced to dispatch utility crews, each time at great expense. In a single year of bad weather, the city might pay a minimum of $15,000 just to keep the overhead wires repaired.
For city Risk Manager Michael Forsee, the obvious solution was to bury the power lines, but the $100,000 cost was prohibitive. He applied for a Hazard Mitigation Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) when he learned that the grants provide funds for local communities to strengthen their infrastructure against natural disasters. The Camelot subdivision fit the criteria.
In July 2006 the city received a grant to reroute 7,450 feet of overhead cable, taking Camelot's power lines off their poles and running them underground, where they were safe from ice, wind and wayward greenery. Though this conversion cost $126,815, the share paid by the city of Bardstown was only $16,485. The Commonwealth of Kentucky paid $15,217 of the costs to bury the lines. FEMA paid $95,111, or 75 percent of construction costs, plus the total cost of managing the project.
The job was completed in December 2008, a month before this year's disastrous ice storm struck the Commonwealth in late January, smashing forests not only in Bardstown but in much of the rest of Kentucky. The new underground power lines showed no effect. Better yet, local government shouldered no repair bill for them. Camelot residents were "just ecstatic," said Forsee, and repair crews "didn't spend five minutes out there"-though the rest of Bardstown suffered a half million dollars in ice storm damage.
"The Bardstown project shows how the local, state and federal partnership can offer extraordinary savings for the local community, improve safety, reduce inconvenience and help make the Commonwealth and the nation more resilient," said Richard Flood, director of mitigation for the FEMA contingent addressing the 2009 storm.
"Just in this one storm," said Jerry Ross, a mitigation engineer for FEMA, speaking of this year's ice storm. "Bardstown definitely recouped the cost of this far-sighted project."
"Communities should consider such projects as they look at their own vulnerabilities," said Flood.
"The idea is to look at local conditions, using a targeted approach to focus on areas of greatest vulnerability."
He said not all overhead power lines are good candidates for burial solutions. In some places, particularly urban areas, buried lines might be damaged by construction projects or other pressures. But in Flood's opinion, Bardstown presented the perfect challenge for the ideal solution.
FEMA leads and supports the nation in a risk-based, comprehensive emergency management system of preparedness, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation, to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the nation from all hazards including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.