Power surge from fallen electrical pole damages appliances for neighborhood

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Teri Skolasinski (right) and other residents took their concerns to the City Council Monday after Municipal Services failed to meet their expectations for service and recompense following an Oct. 28 appliance damaging power surge. Residents are also upset by deductibles that exceed their losses, as well as the possible wire damage inside their house walls.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – A power surge caused by a fallen Municipal Services electrical pole the morning of Oct. 28 damaged appliances and created concern among residents of two dozen homes in the block bounded by Second and Third avenues and Superior and Chestnut.

Residents unsatisfied with the response from Municipal Services took their complaints to the City Council meeting Monday. Led by homeowner Teri Skolasinski, residents told the council of their electrical appliance loss, wiring damage concerns and frustration over an inability to obtain financial recompense from Municipal Services.

Residents also were upset by a letter from senior claims examiner Sue Owens, a claims administrator for the ASU Group, representing Municipal Services. The letter implied governmental immunity prevented them from assisting the residents with their claims.

“We owe our citizens more than this letter,” Councilman Larry Stec said.

After hearing from several concerned homeowners, the council and mayor asked questions, and voiced a desire to provide homeowners with some unspecified, non-precedent setting relief from deductibles and non-covered damages.

“Thank you for coming,” said Mayor Peterson. “This mayor and this council will take care of it,” Mayor Joseph Peterson said. “Tomorrow morning we’ll start. We’ll get it done. Actions speak louder than words.”

A meeting for the block affected by the surge was held in the Municipal Services Building at 3005 Biddle in the second floor conference room at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Melanie McCoy, General Manager of Municipal Services, chaired the information meeting, and answered residents’ questions.

Also in attendance were Municipal Board members Thomas Kaul, Frederick DeLisle, Gerald Cole and James Figurski. Jerry Kupser was also present.

McCoy said before the Nov. 11 meeting that when the pole fell over, the neutral line broke on a nearby pole, allowing a voltage swing to occur.

McCoy also explained that of the 23 homes connected to the circuit, all experienced something from the surge – from a damaged surge arrester to multiple appliance failure.

Officials say homeowner or renter insurance is the route most residents would take to seek compensation for their loss. Government entities – with some exceptions – generally have governmental immunity against claims of this nature.

Over 700 electrical poles are replaced per year in town, roughly 10 percent, McCoy explained. She noted that the day the pole fell was not exceptionally windy.

Skolasinski expressed the belief in a letter to the council and mayor that the pole that initially fell was rotted at the base, and when it fell it caused damage to the electrical pole connected to it. With the neutral broken, the resultant power surge affected the connected houses and apartments.

“We had a horrific smell of burning wire, smoke, sparking of electrical appliances and computers, breaking light bulbs, and a delay of power for a short time,” Skolasinski said in her letter.

Neighbors are upset that they have to pay for damages that were not caused by a maintenance problem within their control. Some have deductibles higher than the value of the goods they need to replace – some as much as $2,500, Skolasinski said.

A survey of residents within the block revealed appliance damage to 13 televisions, six heating and cooling systems, three dishwashers, five microwaves and seven phones. Eight computers were damaged, as were 13 clock radios, 12 DVD/VCRs, 70 light bulbs and four refrigerators. Others lost a hot tub motor, a garage opener and a baby monitor.

Dennis Bargowski, who spoke at the city council meeting, has electrical outlets that no longer work.

Robert Benson, another affected resident, would like to see the city council provide the electric inspection. He is concerned about what happened to the wires in the walls during the surge.

At Monday night’s city council meeting residents’ comments were met with sympathy and attentiveness.

Municipal Service offers of help have been scattered. Residents have been told their TVs will be fixed at A & P Appliances, and new computers would have the reinstallation fee waived.

Some residents, like Skolasinski, have hired private electricians to inspect their homes because of the strong smell of burning wiring and smoke they noticed at the time of the surge.

“Neighbors are very concerned about damage to the wiring behind the walls of their homes that could endanger their families in the future,” Skolasinski said. “Many are frustrated that this incident was not handled faster and with better results than it has to this point.”

Many in the neighborhood who have paid for homeowners insurance for many years are now overwhelmed by the claim process. The difficult economic climate makes the out-of-pocket repairs and replacements even more difficult for residents.

Skolasinski is glad, however, that no one was hurt.

“All of us are very thankful that no fire resulted that would have damaged several homes if that pole fell a different way or if some of the sparks had started a fire in a basement of a neighbor that was not home to monitor their situation,” Skolasinski said.

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Photo by Sue Suchyta

The new electrical pole, seen on the right behind the carport, replaces the pole that may have collapsed from what residents believe was rot at its base. When the first pole fell, it is believed it caused the neutral, a device similar to a surge protector, on the pole near it, seen to the left by the white fence, to become damaged. With the neutral broken on the second pole, a power surge went through the electrical lines, damaging appliances, outlets and possibly wiring. The affected block is bounded by Second and Third streets and Superior and Chestnut. The poles are on the inside of the block along the alley.