Winter storms take their worst toll in the hills above Milford

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  • Nicole Herman and Julie Cipriano, both of Dingman, rested in sleeping bags the first night of the storm, right in the PCP&L office (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

  • Tree upon fallen tree at one summer residence (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

  • The storm left lots of pine logs, which are available to anyone who wants to take them away. Pine is not suitable for indoor fireplaces and woodstoves, but will make great fuel for campfires. (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

  • A path was painstakingly cut through multitudinous fallen trees and utility wires, a morass that had, along with the snow, completely blocked this road. The tree on the left simply shredded when it broke. The vertical pressure caused by the weight of the snow, which was wet and accumulated on pine needles, was too much for even healthy trees (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

  • A driveway had been almost completely blocked by fallen trees (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

  • A small hill of wood shavings was left by all the chainsaw work done at this out-of-the-way intersection (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

  • Steve Grandinali at the Pike County Power & Light facility on Schneider Lane (Photo by Pamela Chergotis)

By Pamela Chergotis

— The storm of March 2nd turned the beautiful Moon Valley ravine into a trough filled with wet, heavy snow, shot through with fallen trees the size of ships' masts, strangled in a hellish rigging of wire.

Electric lines, phone lines, and cable lines thread through the narrow spaces of this primevally gorgeous landscape, keeping its residents — many of them part-timers — well illuminated and connected to civilization. Residents of storybook cottages with gingerbread trim enjoy both the internet and the brook babbling below. But the sight of the devastation wrought on these hills will remind you of who's boss, and her name begins with "Mother" and ends with "Nature."

Engineer Steve Grandinali, the point man for Pike County Power & Light, gave me a tour last Friday of the worst spots he and his workers had to contend with during the week or so after the first, and worst, of the March storms struck the hills around Milford. These spots may have eluded the notice of those without reason to go there. Cummins Hill Road, Foster Hill Road, and Moon Valley Road on one side of the borough, Christian Hill and Mott Street on the other, were among those especially hard hit. Many short and exceedingly narrow spurs radiate off these roads, creating choke points that challenge big machines. But Grandinali said the track machines he brought in could do the job, even here — negotiating hundreds of feet over narrow, unpaved road and across, in one case at least, a sweet little footbridge. The track machine not only negotiates super-tough terrain but drives giant utility poles into the earth to boot.

The colossal mess was already cleared off the roads by last Friday for the most part, and by the end of the weekend much of the debris was gone altogether. The speed of the cleanup and restoration of power seemed to come as a surprise to many, who'd decided, just by the looks of things in days right after the storm, that it would take many weeks or even months to get back to normal.

As Grandinali pointed to the utility lines around Milford, his expertise was evident — he knew all the poles that needed to be replaced, the locations of the most problematic breaks, the transformers that failed, the spot where, when the second Nor'easter of the month hit five days later, three of his trucks slid into a ditch, one after another, on Christian Hill. ("They know how to get each other out," he said.) He slept right in his office, on Schneider Lane, off Route 6 in the borough, along with customer service reps Nicole Herman and Julie Cipriano, both of Dingman, and others working through the night to monitor outages and help customers. The quiet facility, significantly upgraded in recent years, was a hub of activity during the storm as residents came in seeking information and help.

This spring, Gradinali will review the storm to see what could be improved in a regular review he calls "lessons learned." He said communication has emerged as an area needing improvement, and he mentioned technology that can, for example, help PCP&L get back to people.

"It's an area we need to look into," he said.

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