COLORADO - Power Outage Disrupts Dinner Rush, YVEA Officials Not Happy About Number of Outages This Year : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Tom Ross, Staff Reporter

Thursday, March 30, 2000

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS  The latest power outage in downtown Steamboat Springs Tuesday night meant candle-lit dining wasn't optional  it was mandatory. But it was more than a mood-setter for local restaurateurs who say the outage cost them business in some cases, and inconvenience in others.

The power went off throughout most of the downtown at about 6:30 p.m., just as restaurants were filling up with a rush of ravenous skiers. The power stayed off for 30 to 45 minutes. Although restaurant stove tops are almost universally fueled with gas, the hoods that pull smoke and cooking grease away are powered by electricity.

"The ambience was terrific, but there were some children who were scared," Cantina manager Todd Minch said.

Actually, in many restaurants, any ambience was spoiled when the emergency lighting system kicked in and the dining rooms were filled with light.

Minch said his restaurant was full and running a waiting list when the power went out. The loss of a ventilation hood meant the kitchen was shut down. That in turn meant some people who were already seated waited a long time for their food, and others left without being seated. The cash registers weren't working while the power was out and food servers couldn't ring up their tickets.

Michelle Quinn, a bartender at Steamboat Brewery and Tavern, said both the brewery and its affiliated restaurant, El Rancho Nuevo, had full dining rooms when the power went out. The kitchens couldn't operate, but the bars stayed open and the customers showed remarkable patience.

Bartenders used their keys to open the cash drawers and make change, Quinn said. They made lists of their orders so they could ring them into the register after the power went back on.

Ben Stroock, an owner at the Main Dish, was busy Wednesday preparing for the evening crowd, but took a moment to say of the power outage: "It was a major inconvenience."

Shelby Silva, a general manager at the Old West Steakhouse, said it was fortunate that a party of 75 diners from a ski club was just finishing up its meal Tuesday night when the power went out. Although the guests had an enjoyable meal, the restaurant crew had to round up a half-dozen flashlights and tally dinner checks by hand. Credit cards were also run through a manual machine.

"We finished cooking the last two orders that were already on," Silva said. After that, the menu choices were simple: medium rare prime rib or peel-and-eat shrimp.

The biggest hit the Old West took came in the form of five reservations already on the books that turned into no-shows because customers heard of the power outage. Almost all of the restaurant patrons remained cheerful, Silva said, and some of the guests who canceled their reservations the night before rescheduled for Wednesday night.

Jim Chappell of Yampa Valley Electric Association said Tuesday night's problem stemmed from a blown transformer at Fifth and Lincoln, not far from a major substation. Chappell, who is manager of consumer accounts for YVEA, suspects the failure of the transformer was due to old age.

Normally, the problem wouldn't be so widespread when a transformer goes out, he said. Typically, a blown transformer would only affect several customers.

In this case, a fuse inside the transformer opened up, Chappell said.

"When that fuse opened up there was an internal arc that heated the oil in the transformer and caused it literally to explode," Chappell said. That opened the entire Fifth Street feeder circuit and took out power in most of the downtown.

He explained that oil is used to cool and insulate the transformer. The oil isn't under pressure, but it was exposed to 400 amps or more of current when the internal arc took place. The oil heated and expanded so rapidly, it caused the explosion.

YVEA crews initially restored power by taking the transformer off line, then went back and replaced it.

The Fifth Street feeder has sustained four electrical faults since the first of the year, Chappell acknowledged.

Some downtown businesses reported more than one last week. There were also major power outages near the base of the ski area early this year, one of which caused a loss of power at the administrative offices of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. In that case, ski area personnel circulated in Gondola Square, selling lift tickets and making change from wads of cash.

The incident that impacted the ski area on Jan. 7 actually involved three apparently separate faults in underground cables. That outage hit 1,500 customers.

In some cases, outages were caused by incidents outside YVEA's control, Chappell said: A backhoe hit a power line in one case, and it's believed an animal caused another outage.

YVEA officials are not happy about the number of outages they've experienced this year, Chappell said. The company has obtained an infrared scanner from the federal government to help it reduce power outages locally.

Chappell said crews from the electric utility will be able to "drive by" its power lines and transformers using the scanner to identify hot spots before they lead to further problems.

"We're doing that because we're trying to minimize the problems on our system," Chappell said.

 To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail

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-- (, March 30, 2000

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