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Lansing BWL officials face critics of last month's major power outage response

Lansing Board of Water and Light officials are defending their heavily criticized response to last month’s major power outage.

BWL customers like Alice Dreger are livid over having to wait more than a week for their power to be turned back on.

"Let me tell you, when you have live wires down for nine to 12 days, safety is not job one,” Dreger told a packed meeting last night at BWL’s headquarters.

But a majority of those taking the podium praised the work of BWL employees. Most were BWL employees and officials, though a few were BWL customers.

J. Peter Lark is BWL’s general manager. He’s been the focus of much of the criticism. Lark left the city during the outage to spend time in New York City with his family. He told the packed meeting he “regrets” the problems that resulted from the "catastrophic" ice storm. Lark says “improvements are necessary."

“Disasters unfortunately come with hard lessons, and we have learned from this,” Lark said as he started the meeting by reading a prepared statement. 

But Lark says it’s important to look at the “context” of the damage linemen had to respond to.

“It took us 138 years to build (BWL’s electrical system),” Lark said. “It took Mother Nature eight hours to destroy 40% of it.”

BWL plans to offer customers who were without power for five days a $25 credit, and more for people who were without electricity longer. A spokesman says it’s too early to estimate what that would cost the utility. 

The utility also plans to hire more line workers, and complete a review of the outage by the middle of next month. Lark expects an announcement soon on an outside review of the utility's response to the Dec. 22 ice storm and the power outage that followed.

Lark also says BWL will be more aggressive in its tree-trimming program.  "We're not going to do anything draconian," Lark told the utility's Board of Commissioners.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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