Final update: North Arkansas Electric Coop restores all customers

SALEM, AR (KAIT) - The North Arkansas Electric Cooperative has released it's final report to Region 8 News:

North Arkansas Electric Cooperative is pleased to announce that power has been restored, where possible, to all of its members that were left in the dark from the ice storm that began January 26th.  At the peak of the outage, NAEC had 34,000 members without power.  The crippling ice storm that brought three inches of ice left the cooperative with more than 2,500 broken poles and an estimated $14.5 million in damages.

"This weather event was unlike any other we have ever experienced.  While it was a trying time for both our employees and members, I feel like we did an outstanding job rebuilding a system that took 70 years to build," stated Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative.

Days into the storm the cooperative estimated that it would take four to six weeks to restore power to all of its members.  The seemingly impossible task took less than three weeks to complete.

North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's recovery was accomplished with the help of several other electric cooperative crews and contractors from as far away as the U-P of Michigan.  In total there were around 700 additional contract crew members, approximately 30 retired NAEC employees and other volunteers, in addition to the cooperative's current 120 employees working to restore power.  In all, around 900 people were working around the clock to get the lights back on.

The damage from the storm covered all of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative's 4,000 square miles of service territory which covers parts of six different counties including Fulton, Baxter, Sharp, Izard, Stone and Marion.  With approximately 2,500 broken poles, the cooperative's 4,700 miles of line took a direct hit from the storm.

A preliminary estimate of expenses from the storm for North Arkansas Electric is estimated at $14.5 million.  NAEC management personnel will be meeting with FEMA and the state of Arkansas next week to discuss reimbursement of up to 87.5% of the storm's damages.  Due to the severity of the damages, the process of reimbursement will take some time to complete.

Cleanup from the restoration process will begin this week and will most likely continue through the middle part of the summer.   There are still members with damaged meter bases and loops that have to be repaired before service can be reconnected.  Those members are asked to contact the cooperative when their services are repaired so power can be restored.

Additionally, the public is asked to leave damaged material, including broken poles, as is.  The material left on these poles can be reused and the cooperative will eventually collect these items.

According to Coleman, "I could not be more proud of our employees, the members we serve and the graciousness shown by the public in general.  We appreciate everyone's patience and hope that we never have to experience another storm of this magnitude. "

North Arkansas Electric Cooperative serves approximately 35,500 member accounts in six different counties in Northern Arkansas.  It is one of 17 electric distribution cooperatives in Arkansas that provides electricity to over 465,000 cooperative members in Arkansas and surrounding states.