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Backup Line That Contributed To West Side Blackout Has Been Down Since 2016

The head of Cleveland Public Power (CPP) is apologizing for the utility's role in a blackout last Saturday. The outage, which started at another company's electrical substation, left an estimated 40,000 customers on the city's west side in the dark for nearly seven hours.

Speaking to reporters at CPP's office on Monday, Commissioner Ivan Henderson said the agency is working "feverishly" to restore a power line that would have provided the west side with a backup electricity feed but has been out of service since December 2016. 

Henderson said the work should be done by late September. Asked why that process has taken almost 20 months, he said the restoration is complicated, and they are trying to "do it right the first time."

"These systems are very complicated, working with older cable" he said. "We have to bring in specialized work, specialized skill to do those repairs."

The power outage started Saturday evening when a substation run by FirstEnergy-owned Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., went on the fritz.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young acknowledge that the outage originated because of an equipment failure at its Clinton substation, but Young added that an extended blackout could have been prevented if an alternative line had been in place.

"It's common utility practice to make sure there is redundancy in your system," Young said. "We did express concern [to CPP] that the system was being served by a single feed."

‘Not An Act of Nature’

Despite Commissioner Henderson's assertion that the company is working seven days a week to restore the alternative power line, Saturday's blackout was just the latest frustration for some west side restaurant owners, who say they've experienced multiple outages over the past year. 

"This is not an act of nature," said Claudia Young, co-owner of Citizen Pie, a pizza restaurant in Ohio City. "This is neglect on the part of the power company."

The blackout hit during the peak of Saturday dinner service, creating a cascade of problems that Young says she and her staff had to deal with on the fly.

"Everybody's scrambling," she said. Unable to process credit card payments, they had to resort to the honor system, she said. Those who came in later were turned away. On top of that, there was the $1,500 worth of mozzarella, shipped in the day before from Brooklyn. To save the precious product, Young enlisted her staff. 

"They were piling mozzarella into their air-conditioned cars and running it over to our other location." 

Likewise Matt Spinner, Executive Chef of Ushabu, a Japanese restaurant in Tremont, did some quick thinking, driving to Mitchell's Ice Cream in Rocky River to buy dry ice to keep the $3,000-$4,000 worth of meat in his refrigerators cold.

The power came back on just before 2 a.m. But by then the night was already over. Young figures she lost about $4,000 on the night, while Spinner estimates he lost around $1,200.

Henderson said businesses who were adversely impacted by the blackout may file a claim with the city, which oversees Cleveland Public Power.

"It's absurb," Spinner said. After experiencing four smaller power outages in the past year, he said he is looking into purchasing a backup generator, which could easily run a few thousand dollars. 

"It's not ideal," he said. "What would be ideal is to have public utilities that work properly."

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