Austin Utilities sends 2 of its own to assist with restoration efforts from Hurricane Dorian

Published 8:49 am Wednesday, September 4, 2019

When it comes to helping those who need it, Austin Utilities won’t hesitate to jump in and answer that call.

Jeff Martinson and Doug Barth, employees at Austin Utilities, both volunteered to help fellow linemen in Florida with restoring power for customers why may be affected by Hurricane Dorian.

The two headed down to Florida over the weekend, and made it to the state yesterday, where they’re currently staging in order to prepare for their tasks.

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The request came through the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association, a state association that Austin Utilities belongs to, said Mark Nibaur, general manager for Austin Utilities and president-elect for the MMUA, and that multiple entities from the state addressed that call.

So far, more than 40 linemen and between 20 to 25 vehicles statewide have already headed down to Florida in order to help restore power for residents and businesses.

“We do this often for our local utilities neighbors like Rochester Public Utilities and assisted with restoration efforts there,” Nibaur said. “We have assisted with events on a more national stage such as Hurricane Sandy and Irma. We have gone to New York and Florida in the past after storms have gone through. This isn’t our first time.”

To choose who would be able to go and help with restoration efforts in Florida, Nibaur said that Austin Utilities has a volunteer program that correlates with its overtime lists. Specific linemen were asked if they’d be interested in volunteering and participate in the restoration process while the hurricane moves through Florida.

“Most of the time, roads are closed down because wires have fallen down and trees are the biggest things since they pull down wire when they fall,” Nibaur said. “They’d restore wires and power for customers and put the wires back up and reattaching them to establish connections to customer homes, down the streets and alleys. We don’t know where Doug and Jeff are going, yet. They’re heading in that direction to meet with the restoration team in Florida and staging there.”

Martinson and Barth both carry a wealth of experience from having worked as long-time employees at Austin Utilities. Nibaur stated that Barth has never been outside of the state for a restoration experience, and that going down to assist with Dorian’s aftermath would be a first for him. Martinson, on the other hand, has been onsite to assist with restoration efforts after Hurricane Irma.

“Two-fold, it’ll be great to be able to assist our peers in the field across the country and it’s a great opportunity to help out,” Nibaur said. “We want to help others restore electricity to customers, and we can assume that whenever we need help that others would come to our aid as well. It’s a goodwill gesture, and I think Doug and Jeff will pick up great skills and learn different things from different linemen and to get a better understanding about their trade.”

Although it’s unknown exactly when Martinson and Barth will return from their operations down in Florida, Nibaur anticipates that it shouldn’t take longer than two weeks at most. However, if aid is still needed beyond that timeframe, then he expects to swap Barth and Martinson with two other linemen from Austin Utilities to help relieve them.

Noting Martinson’s and Barth’s experience, Nibaur expressed that he was proud of the two and that they are ready to help those in Florida get their power back.

“I think it’s a great feeling of pride to represent Austin and Austin Utilities and Minnesota,” Nibaur said. “To travel down to Florida and help our neighboring utility companies, Doug and Jeff really get a lot of pride being able to restore power to customers and be right out there with them. It’s a great feeling for any linemen. They’re ready to go to work.”