The 2002 Honda Pilot rests in the bushes next to the pole it broke in half. Up above are Sitka's 69kV transmission lines. (Sitka Electric Dept. photo)

The 2002 Honda Pilot rests in the bushes next to the pole it broke in half. Up above are Sitka’s 69kV transmission lines. (Sitka Electric Dept. photo)

Much of Sitka was without power Sunday night (5-15-16) after a car smashed into a utility pole at about 11 PM.

The 2002 Honda Pilot hit the pole in the 1300-block of Sawmill Creek Road, more or less severing it.

A photo provided by the Sitka Electric Department shows the pole clearly broken in two and hanging from transmission wires. The car is overturned in bushes nearby.

Bryan Bertacchi is Sitka’s utility director. He says utility poles are pretty substantial — and do not break easily.

“Yeah. You’d have to make your own judgment from the picture. But I’d say the car hit that pole pretty hard.

The driver was alone in the car. According to Sitka Police he suffered minor injuries. He’s being investigated for Driving Under the Influence.

Power was out along Sawmill Creek Road until about 4 AM, as line crews worked to replace the pole. Power was quickly restored to the rest of town however, when the Electric Department fired up its new Titan backup generator. The Titan was purchased as part of the Blue Lake Hydro Expansion project.

Just 11 days ago the department tested the Titan and it tripped breakers, leaving Sitka without power for about an hour.

“But the reason we do those tests is that when we really needed it — which was last night — it operated flawlessly. It carried the whole town from 11 o’clock at night ‘til 4 in the morning, while they replaced that pole. So we were able to have good service to all our customers except those in the surrounding area while that pole was being replaced.”

Despite running through a fairly busy area of Sitka, the pole carries the town’s 69,000-volt transmission line from its two hydro-electric plants. Bertacchi says the Electric Department is trying to think more holistically about Sitka’s power supply, to ensure that they’ve got enough spare transformers and other equipment to keep the system running in the event disaster strikes — in this case, just one reckless driver.

“Remember, we’re not on a grid like the mainland. Unfortunately when we do have outages or these things happen, we try and do everything we can to keep everybody’s lights on and be reliable. But we’ve got no larger system to rely on. That transmission line going south to Blue Lake and Green Lake — that’s it. We have to fire up those diesel generators. And we burn a lot of fuel. Even last night that’s $10,000-worth of fuel that gets consumed.”

Bertacchi credits the solid work from the local line crew, contractor Chatham Electric, and Sitka’s fire and police departments for helping install the new pole and restore power throughout the community.

“Otherwise,” Bertacchi says, “this might have taken a couple of days to fix.”