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Willmar utilities workers to help repair damage by Sandy

Willmar Utilities Commissioner Steve Salzer, left, poses Thursday with volunteer linemen Casey Jenny and Dick Thynes, who are going to Long Island, N.Y., to help repair damage caused there by Superstorm Sandy. Submitted photo

WILLMAR -- Willmar Municipal Utilities is among a handful of Minnesota municipal utilities sending personnel and trucks this weekend to the East Coast to help restore power knocked out earlier this week by Hurricane Sandy.

Willmar linemen Casey Jenny, who has been with the utility for three years, and Dick Thynes, a 29-year veteran, departed Willmar in a bucket truck at 7 a.m. Friday and headed to a staging point in Rochester where they joined crews and trucks from other utilities at about 10 a.m. to caravan to Long Island, N.Y.

Willmar Utilities Commissioner Steve Salzer was present to see the pair off. Pat's Graphics provided a banner Friday afternoon for the rear of the truck saying "Proud to Assist Sandy Relief Efforts, Willmar, Minnesota.''

The estimated time the two linemen will be gone is at least 10 days, said Wesley Hompe, Willmar Utilities general manager.

The Minnesota delegation will be assisting a large Long Island municipal utility. The Minnesotans will be working as a group organized by the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association.

The association is providing a coordinator who will serve as general foreman for the Minnesota crews. The coordinator will make sure everyone has the same radio frequencies and that everything is safe, said Hompe.

"Wires carry a lot of electricity and if you don't know what's going on at the other end, it could be dangerous for our people, so they have to operate with that in their mind the whole time they're out there,'' he said.

Hompe said the utility decided it could spare two linemen and a truck and still provide good service here. Hompe said Jenny and Thynes were selected from four who volunteered. Also volunteering were Todd Graves, a journeyman lineman with 18 years with the utility, and Zack Larson, a journeyman lineman with 8 years with the utility.

Hompe said it's possible the Willmar crew will be needed for an additional 10 days. If that's the case, Graves and Larson will be flown out to take over the truck and Jenny and Thynes will be flown home.

Hompe said the crew could be working 12-hour days and will probably be exhausted when their stint ends.

"I don't know what they're going to find and how quickly things are going to return to normal out there,'' he said.

Hompe said Willmar and other utilities sign mutual aid agreements to assist in repairing storm damage. He said Willmar has sent people to Grove City, St. Peter, Wadena and Austin in the past.

"This is at least a 10-day commitment for these people. They're going to be away from their families for that long and they have to make that decision that they can do that, make that time available and go do this. We honor that decision,'' Hompe said.

However, this is the first time Willmar has gone out of state to provide assistance.

"We've not gone this far out of our neighborhood ever,'' said Hompe. "I'm really proud of them.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150