BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Jamaica Public Service (JPS) says it will be rolling out an education campaign as it seeks to partner with communities to manage overhanging vegetation around utility poles.
President of JPS Kelly Tomblin said while the company has always had a vegetation management programme, it will be stepping up its efforts to deal with the problem, which contributed in part to the more than 6,000 poles that fell during the passage of Hurricane Sandy last month.
"When I first came I contacted some experts on vegetation management to come down to Jamaica and work with our team and start a new vegetation programme a month before the hurricane," Tomblin told editors and reporters at the Jamaica Observer weekly Monday Exchange held at the newspaper's head office in Kingston.
Vegetation management, she said, is not only about removing the overhanging trees and shrubs but being able to stump their regrowth through the use of chemicals.
"We have recently made some changes in how we do vegetation control," Tomblin said. She said vegetation management is particularly challenging in Jamaica because of the remote areas and how plants such as bamboo grow, and as such there is need for another approach.
"Vegetation management requires a lot of community interaction... and so one of the things we hope to have more is community partnership in vegetation control both on individual owner perspective and community," Tomblin said.
Speaking to the power company's handling of the restoration programme across the island in the aftermath of the category one storm, Tomblin said there is a limitation to the appropriate resources the company has at its disposal.
"We all wish we had unlimited resources, and if we did, instead of 80 crews we would have trained and ready to go 200 crews, but that would mean an even greater upward pressure on electric prices because most time we are not having an outage," Tomblin said.
Given the challenges, Tomblin said the company did well in restoring power to 90 per cent of its customers in four days.
"From my more than two decades being involved in storm restoration, having 90 per cent of customers back in power after a hurricane is a very good solid performance," she said.
"To get 90 per cent of the people back in four days, I don't know how much you can improve on that," she added, noting that there are ways to make significant improvement on the remaining 10 per cent.
She said there is a disconnect in the understanding of what the JPS teams really do go through and what is required.
"If I tell a guy from the United States to take a pole and walk down two miles they would look at me like I have three heads, because they are not going to put that on their back and walk down the hill, but our guys have to do that," she said.
To date, the JPS said only 2,000 of its 480,000 customers are still without power. For these customers, Tomblin said the workers are having problems accessing the areas because of landslide and other challenges.
The preliminary estimate for the restoration works is said to be in the region of US$7 million, and is expected to climb.