(Corrects company name to Bridgewell Resources LLC from
Bridgewell International in fourth paragraph)
* Specialty utility pole suppliers see major uptick in
* Stockpiles of southern pine trees in short supply due to
* More orders than trucks - one supplier
By Jennifer Merritt
Nov 2 When some Westchester County, New York,
residents called utility Consolidated Edison on Friday to find
out why it was taking so long to restore power, they were told
that it wasn't for lack of manpower or equipment.
It was poles ... utility poles.
Despite the caravans of power trucks in neighborhoods across
the New York City area, a shortage of the specially-treated
wooden poles used to string overhead power transmission lines
and hold up transformers may be slowing the recovery.
Specialty pole suppliers like Cox Industries and Bridgewell
Resources LLC are producing and trucking as many as 1,500 poles
a day to customers in the Northeast since Hurricane Sandy
slammed into the New Jersey coastline on Monday, flooding entire
towns and leaving millions of homes in the dark. More than 3.5
million people remained without power as of Friday afternoon.
But in some cases suppliers say they cannot keep up. Class 1
and 2 utility poles, which are the largest in diameter and among
the most commonly-used in the Northeast, sold out fast and the
orders are still coming, said Chris Slonaker, an East Coast
sales manager for Bridgewell, which is based in Tigard, Oregon.
"The stock that was available at the time of the storm is
all gone, and we are trying to replenish it," said Slonaker,
whose company supplies power poles to Consolidated Edison Inc
, Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, Verizon
Communications Inc and several rural electric
ConEd, which still had about 500,000 customers without power
as of Friday afternoon, would not immediately comment on why its
customer service personnel had told some homeowners that utility
pole supplies were a challenge. A spokeswoman said the biggest
obstacles to restoring power to customers with overhead lines
was impassable roads and thousands of downed power lines.
To complicate matters, because of high demand, stockpiles of
the southern pine trees used to make the poles are in short
supply at plants Bridgewell buys from. Trees are arriving at
plants daily and several thousand poles are under construction
now, Slonaker said.
They should be ready to ship to the Northeast by the middle
of next week for a 900-mile trip that takes two to three days -
which could mean another week - or more - without electricity
and heat even as a cold snap settles into the area.
Most of the dozen or so plants Bridgewell buys utility poles
from have been operating 24-hours a day since the storm. They
usually operate only 8-hours a day during normal weather and
16-hours a day after most big weather events. Typically,
Bridgewell ships 50 truckloads, each with about 30 poles, each
day for one or two days after a storm. But Hurricane Sandy has
led to an influx of orders far larger.
"Orders have continued at this pace," every day since Sandy
struck on Monday, Slonaker said.
And even after producing the poles, Bridgewell is finding
there are more orders than there were trucks. Hundreds of
flatbed trucks that would normally deliver plywood and other
supplies are being outfitted with wooden stakes so they can haul
the 35-to-50-foot utility poles.
TOO FEW TRUCKS, BLOCKED ROADS
Orangeburg, South Carolina-based Cox Industries is sending
upwards of 1,200 poles per day to warehouses in Hainesport, New
Jersey and Hicksville, New York on Long Island from its
production factories in the southeast, said Don Surrency, a
sales manager at the company.
Surrency said Cox has not had trouble keeping up with orders
to PSE&G, Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) or
Verizon and is sending about 40 trucks per day, each loaded with
25 to 30 poles. But getting them to the right place hasn't been
"There are other obstacles you don't typically see in
storms," said Surrency.
Among them: The dense population, blocked or difficult to
pass roadways - sometimes because of cars that have simply run
out of gas, he said.
Truck drivers have, so far, not encountered the fuel
shortages many residents in New York and New Jersey have
experienced, Surrency and Slonaker said.
John Margaritis, a spokesman for PSE&G, the biggest power
provider in New Jersey, said that supply of utility poles has
not been an issue. The utility in hard-hit New Jersey still had
692,000 customers without power as of Friday afternoon.
LIPA did not return calls and emails for comment on Friday.
Before the storm, most of the utilities Bridgewell deals
with had already ordered extra supplies of poles. But Slonaker
says those ran out quickly.
"They were prepared, but this was bigger than expected," he
said. "It's hard to prepare for this."
(Reporting by Jennifer Merritt; Editing by Jonathan Leff,