Everyone in Metro is working overtime to tackle the unexpected snow and ice in Nashville this week. Make no mistake: This effort comes nowhere near the level of response that a 1,000-year flood required. But it has nevertheless had Metro government, which has operated under partial emergency activation, working around the clock.
All the extra work and salt will come with a cost to Metro. The same goes for other Middle Tennessee counties crippled by a weeklong weather event that began with ice, then snow, then subzero temperatures.
Metro and other local governments are still tallying the final dollar figure. As of Wednesday, the Metro Public Works Department by itself had spent $350,000 in overtime, salt that has exceeded 3,000 tons and fuel for the department’s snowplows. Additional expenses have been required of the Metro police and fire departments as well as Metro Water Services.
Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said the city will begin analyzing costs of each department within the next couple of days. The finance department will then review whether savings over the coming year can cover expenses or whether supplemental appropriations are necessary. Funds would come out of Metro reserves.
It appears unlikely that federal disaster aid will be available to assist in covering costs, but Tennessee hasn’t ruled it out.
An official from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said that damage would need to total at least $8.9 million in Tennessee to qualify for a presidential disaster declaration. That includes overtime, any damage to roads or electrical infrastructure and other costs accumulated by counties or state agencies.
The federal government uses a formula that breaks down the per-citizen cost of a disaster to determine eligibility for federal aid. It’s a higher bar for counties to receive aid than the state as a whole, and Davidson County would need to total $2.3 million in costs to qualify. Metro officials don’t expect it will meet that threshold.
“It would have to be declared a national disaster, and I haven’t heard anything to indicate that yet,” said Riebeling, a top aide to Mayor Karl Dean. “When you compare some of the issues we have to Boston and some other places, it pales by comparison.
“I wouldn’t anticipate (federal aid). I would assume we’ll have to eat all of the costs ourselves.”
While public works crews have addressed streets this week (using a system that focuses first on primary roads, then secondary streets) representatives of affected Metro departments have hunkered down under one roof at the Metro Office of Emergency Manage-ment’s command headquarters, situated near Belmont University.
In a large gathering room, oversized computer screens pinpoint which streets are getting attention and which have seen car wrecks and traffic incidents, where electricity is out as well as give weather updates. A row of coffee pots and a spread of food, prepared by a catering service, sit on a table alongside one wall to feed workers who cycle in and out.
“Even though we’ve had some horrendous conditions, we’re trying to keep the costs reasonable.”
Budgets of Nashville’s emergency departments like fire and police, which are accustomed to maintaining 24-hour presence, are probably won’t be affected to the same level as Metro Public Works. Employees of the latter have alternated 12-hour shifts since Monday.
The presence of ice this week presented most of the issues on roadways, according to Metro Public Works Director Randy Lovett.
“If it had just been snow, it’s a little bit easier to deal with,” he said. “But that ice presented some real problems for us.”
Following 72 hours of around-the-clock storm restoration, Nashville Electric Service (NES) crews were already preparing for the arrival of arctic air and another round of winter precipitation.
More than 90 NES crews braved snow, sleet and freezing rain to safely restore electricity to thousands of customers in the dark in near record time. From 9:30 am Monday through 5 am Wednesday, crews worked a total of 1,618 individual power outages. Nearly 50,000 customers experienced some sort of power interruption during that period. The maximum number of customers that were out at any one time was less than 10,000 compared to the 370,000 customers that NES serves.
Despite the heavy ice accumulation, outages were kept much lower than what might have been expected, thanks in large part to regular tree trimming around power lines throughout the NES service area.
NES is now focused on keeping the power supply steady in spite of heavy electrical demands on its system over the next couple of days. As a precaution, the utility is asking customers to conserve where they can during peak hours (6-10 am and 5-8 pm). NES does not anticipate any problems with its transmission or distribution system meeting the added demand for electricity.
Customers can help by setting their thermostat no higher than 68 degrees and putting off chores around the house that involve electric appliances, such as running the dishwasher, doing laundry and cooking, in the early morning and early evening.
Additional resources for customers are available online at <nespower.com/ WaysTo Save.html>.