In a statement to the Daily News the Senator said he stayed in close contact with Appalachian Power Company officials and with people in the area, and a picture emerged of dry- rotted lines and of rights-of-way where trees were uncut and hanging over power lines. Power company employees from other states who were working to help restore power to the area stated this was “a disaster waiting to happen.”
However, AEP Communications Manager Terry Matheney said the storm created problems that were beyond scope of preventative measures taken by the company.
“These outages could not have been prevented,” Matheney said. “Keeping right-of-ways clear is very important. However, during this storm, healthy trees on top of mountains fell, places that were in remote areas, and that was a major problem.”
Matheney said getting to the downed lines was a challenge.
“The issue was access to the places in rural areas,” she said. “Workers had to climb up mountains, carrying equipment. These were places where they couldn’t take a bucket truck, they had to walk.”
Chafin said, however, that since the storm he has heard from his constituents about problems before throughout the year.
“I have had 40 to 50 emails about complaints to the PSC about brush and debris piling up and causing 14 or 15 outages a year,” the senator told the Daily News.
He said he had spoken to officials in Mingo and McDowell counties, who all agreed the biggest problem they observed along the power lines last week was “fallen trees and little or no maintenance.”
Matheney said AEP has an extensive maintenance program, which works year round to keep their right-of-ways clear.
“That is always important to us, especially in the case of local outages,” the AEP spokesperson said.
“We have to balance between maintenance - keeping our lines clear, and keeping costs down,” she said. “And of course, we will review out performance during this storm to see how we could have done better.”
She added that during the recovery, the company replaced over 1,000 poles, 3,600 cross arms and 1.6 million feet of transmission line, and made over 58,000 splices.
Sen, Chafin told the Daily News he has been in touch with WV Public Service Commission Chairman Michael Albert about the problem.
“The power company has the right to set the rate they want, and they include maintenance in that rate,” he said. “I wanted to confirm to the PSC that we are paying a lot of money to AEP, and they are scrimping on maintenance.”
Chafin said he is working with the PSC to ensure the citizens of Southern West Virginia an opportunity to voice their concerns about the outages.
“The people of Southern West Virginia need to have a forum to state their problems so it will be on record,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“AEP welcomes the opportunity to talk to the PSC ,” Matheney said. “It was an enormous storm, the worst we have seen as far as outages.”