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Claiborne Electric Annual Meeting postponed to June 22


Claiborne Electric’s Annual Membership Meeting, which was slated for April 27 at the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston, was postponed to June 22 due to a deadly storm that moved across the Co-op’s service territory two days prior to the meeting.

In the early morning hours of April 25, a widespread severe weather system traveled through Louisiana, taking two lives in Ruston and causing property destruction in at least eight parishes. The National Weather Service has confirmed that eight tornadoes were spawned by the storm, with the system’s most powerful tornado hitting the City of Ruston and the campus of Louisiana Tech University especially hard. The EF-3 tornado moved through Ruston just before 2 a.m. with a maximum wind speed of 145 miles per hour and a path length of nearly seven miles. At its maximum width, the tornado covered an expanse of 10 football fields. An EF-1 tornado also hit the area southeast of Marion and traveled more than 21 miles. That tornado’s peak wind speed was 110 mph and its maximum width was 850 yards. 

The damage revealed in the light of day a few hours later was devastating. Wind ripped roofs off homes and businesses. Store fronts were demolished. Trees and powerlines were strewn across homes, streets, and vehicles. A mother and her teenage son did not survive after a tree fell on their home in Ruston. Louisiana Tech’s campus sustained severe damage to several facilities, including dorms and athletic complexes. The area near Marion was described many times as looking like a war zone, with so many trees across roads that it took governmental agencies, companies, and private citizens more than three days to make the roadways passable.

At Claiborne Electric, the day began with about 4,000 meters without power in Union and Lincoln Parishes. As damage was assessed, it was clear that the Co-op’s crews would need help in the restoration process.

“In emergency situations, we have access to contractor services such as ECHO Powerline or Chain Electric, but as an electric cooperative, we are also part of a nationwide network of nearly 1,000 sister co-ops ready to help,” said Claiborne Electric General Manager and CEO Mark Brown. “In the aftermath of these storms, we decided to use the help of contractors and sister cooperatives in Louisiana to assist in our restoration efforts. We had more than 50 broken poles on the ground, and we needed help.”

Along with all of Claiborne Electric’s line and right-of-way crews, help rolled in from four Louisiana electric cooperatives, including DEMCO, SLECA, Northeast Louisiana Power Cooperative, and Washington-St. Tammany Electric Cooperative. Echo Powerline and Chain Electric were also brought in as contract crews. In all, about 60 additional workers joined Claiborne Electric’s crews to help get the lights back on for Co-op members.   

While crews were busy assessing damage and beginning the work toward restoration, the conversation inside the walls of Claiborne Electric turned to the Annual Meeting, which was scheduled to start 48 hours from that time at Louisiana Tech’s Thomas Assembly Center. After a few phone calls and a lot of detail sorting, the Co-op’s management team decided the best decision was to postpone the Annual Meeting for the first time in Claiborne Electric’s history. The damage sustained on Louisiana Tech’s campus and the number of Claiborne Electric employees unavailable because of restoration work made the event nearly impossible.

Co-op staff began using social media and recorded telephone calls to let members know the meeting would be postponed, along with radio commercials and announcements throughout the service territory.

Back outside, the Co-op’s outage management system showed nearly half of Claiborne Electric’s outages were on the Point substation in Union Parish. The substation was not receiving power from the company that owns the transmission line feeding power to the substation. Initially, the Co-op was told that the transmission company planned to make that fix on Friday. After work by Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell on behalf of Claiborne Electric’s members, the repair was made on Thursday, restoring power to nearly 2,000 members.

“We are thankful for Commissioner Campbell’s help in requesting that the transmission company feeding our Point substation make a timely repair. That restored power to many of our members 24 hours sooner than expected, and we appreciate his efforts” Brown said.   

During the first day of restoration work on Thursday, crews were able to reduce the number of outages to about 1,000. On Friday, the number of meters without power decreased to approximately 300. On Saturday, crews found the work especially tough in the Marion area, particularly on Union Church Road. ATVs were being used to distribute food to residents in the area as crews continued to clear the roads for line workers. Local homeowners were pitching in with their own chainsaws to remove debris and get bucket trucks in for repairs. Late Saturday night, 98 members in that area were still without electricity. Final restoration was complete Sunday afternoon.

“I have said this many times over the past 13 years, but the employees at Claiborne Electric Cooperative are the best that I have seen at any electric cooperative I’ve ever worked for or been involved with,” Brown said. “Our crews and the ones that came in to help worked relentlessly in harsh conditions, and they are to be commended. A restoration of this magnitude in four days is an astounding feat.”

Many Co-op members also showed appreciation for Claiborne Electric’s crews working long hours in difficult situations.

“We genuinely have the best members,” Brown said. “This storm was devastating, and the damage it left behind is catastrophic. Kind words and gestures from our members were a bright light at a dark time. Our crews appreciate that more than we can express.”

Brown said that throughout the storm’s aftermath, the decision to postpone the Annual Meeting was reaffirmed several times.

“The more we learned, we knew that postponing our meeting was the right decision,” Brown said. “People’s lives, homes, and businesses were destroyed by this storm. The people in Ruston and at Louisiana Tech are amazing and resilient, and we wanted to respect them by rescheduling our meeting to a time that would be more fitting for our celebration.”

Brown said the meeting will still take place at the TAC. The 2019 Annual Meeting will be held June 22 in the afternoon. Registration will open at 2 p.m. and the band will perform at 3:30 p.m. Registration will close when the business meeting begins at 5 p.m.

“We needed to shift our meeting to the afternoon to accommodate some of the Ruston Peach Festival’s planned events, so we hope our members will attend the Peach Festival, then come see us at 2 p.m.,” Brown said.

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