A power outage coming at the worst possible time — and possibly due to the conditions at the time — has been repaired at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, with no deaths or injuries reported, a tribal official said this morning.
Loren “Bum” Stiffarm, chief administrative officer at the Fort Belknap Indian Community, said the first power outages were reported about 8 p.m. Monday and power was restored to the last location by 11 a.m. Tuesday.
“NorthWestern Energy arrived approximately 9:30 (p.m. Monday) and began working on the problem,” Stiffarm said.
Power failures were sporadic
The power outage was sporadic, with one house losing power but the neighboring residence not — he said late Monday night he had power to his office but the hallway outside was without lights.
“The weather created sort of a puzzling outage,” Stiffarm said.
He said the problem seems to have been caused by high usage, probably by people trying to overcome the bitter cold — the region was the cold spot in the nation Tuesday, with both Havre and Chinook reporting lows of minus 42.
NorthWestern workers performed well
Stiffarm credited NorthWestern Energy’s workers with their swift response and finding the problems to resolve the situation.
“It was so strange, it was hard to pinpoint the problem,” he said.
The Hays-Lodge Pole schools shut down due to the cold, but was back in operation this morning.
Superintendent Everall Fox said in a voicemail left with the Havre Daily News Tuesday afternoon that the prime concern was transporting students. The district was concerned that transporting the students several miles between the high school and the elementary school could endanger them.
The schools did not experience a power outage during the period.
Emergency response team activated
Stiffarm said the reservation has an emergency plan with emergency response teams and shelters. One of those shelters was without power, but two others were available.
He also credited the people who responded — including Tribal police, emergency workers and volunteers as well as representatives of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks — with making sure people made it through the power outages. They traveled to check on residents of the reservation during the outages, he said.
“It was good old Montana, and Fort Belknap, community awareness,” Stiffarm said.
He added that the community is looking forward to the chinook being forecast — the National Weather Service forecast warming temperatures with highs in the Hays area of near 26 today, 39 Thursday and 38 Friday, with lows predicted in the teens and 20s, before returning to highs near zero to the teens from Sunday through Tuesday.
That will bring its own set of problems, Stiffarm added, with work required to clear roads during the warm periods. That includes prioritizing which roads to clear first.
He said the high level of snow already has strained the tribe’s budget, with more than $150,000 spent removing the more than 50 inches of snow that has fallen since November.
He said the tribe will work with agencies including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Montana Department of Transportation to see if they can provide any help with those costs.
“We’re hoping we receive that financial support,” Stiffarm said.
The Fort Belknap Indian Community representatives met with agencies last week to revisit its plans for winter actions in caring for the roads and for emergency preparation, he added.
“We do have a game plan. We just want to revisit that and make sure each agency knows their responsibilities,” Stiffarm said.