Power back at all homes
Three weeks to the day after a winter storm knocked out power to thousands of North Dakota residents, electricity to all those affected has been restored as of Tuesday afternoon.
After heavy ice buildup and high winds downed thousands of power lines, electric cooperatives now estimate the storm's financial damages to be in the millions.
As of about 4:30 p.m. MST Tuesday, power was restored to Slope Electric Cooperative's last two affected customers, both located in Bowman County, said Travis Kupper, Slope Electric's chief financial officer.
Officials from both Slope Electric and Roughrider Electric cooperatives say this has been their most costly weather-related outage to date.
Kupper said preliminary calculations estimate damages at about $5 million.
"I expect that number to increase a little bit yet," he said.
Though that estimate includes all outside contractors, it does not include all labor costs, Kupper said.
Slope Electric, serving Adams, Bowman, Hettinger and Slope counties, has replaced 1,270 power poles and 210 miles of conductor footage so far.
"One lineman has been here for 40 years and he said he can't remember anything like it," Kupper said.
Roughrider Electric Cooperative has incurred about $3 million in damages in the five counties serviced, said Deborah Zillich, director of finance and administration for Roughrider Electric.
"As far as a system-wide thing, this is the worst we've ever had," Zillich said.
About 460 power poles were replaced, Zillich said.
"We had a lot of wire break, but we're not having to replace a lot of wire because we were able to put a lot of our wire back up, but we just had to put a lot of splices into it," Zillich said.
A few pump services, or farm wells, have not had power restored to them yet, Zillich said.
Damage assessments are underway in what could lead to federal financial assistance for communities, tribes and rural electric cooperatives.
After Gov. John Hoeven declared a statewide winter storm disaster, the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived Sunday and has begun conducting a preliminary damage assessment, involving 21 counties and 11 electric cooperatives, said FEMA External Affairs Specialist Dennis Lowery.
Once the preliminary damage assessment is completed, a report will be sent to Gov. Hoeven and he will determine if a presidential disaster declaration is in order, Lowery said.
Damage will easily surpass the $1 million threshold for federal disaster eligibility, said Cecily Fong, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services, according to the Associated Press.
If Gov. Hoeven decides a presidential disaster declaration is in order, it must then be approved by President Barack Obama.
Kupper said if the presidential disaster declaration is not approved, the cost will have to be covered by Slope Electric.
"Any reserve fund we have would be gone, plus it would have to be borrowed money," Kupper said. "The anticipation is that it will be FEMA ... with the kind of damage that we're looking at ... we'd have to have some adjustments in our rates I'm sure."
If the declaration is approved, federal aid would cover 75 percent of electric cooperative's damage costs, with the state covering 10 percent.
The declaration would not provide any financial assistance to individual families who incurred storm-related costs.