AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — On top of the time-consuming, complicated task of restoring power to thousands of Austin Energy customers after last week’s ice storm, utility crews are also facing threats at times while still working in the field.
During a news conference Monday afternoon, leaders from Austin Energy shared there are now more than 1,000 utility workers working to restore power to the remaining homes that still do not have lights. At least 630 of those crew members are from Austin Energy itself, while other utility companies across the state sent more than 400 workers to assist with the ongoing effort.
Craig Brooks, Austin Energy’s director of operations who’s overseeing those providing mutual aid, told reporters Monday that crews are dealing with a few “irate customers.” During one incident, he said workers had to call Austin police after receiving threats for working near someone’s property. He did not specify where or when this happened, though.
“We understand that you’re upset. These guys came to help,” Brooks said. “They don’t deserve that, so just make sure that we’re doing our best to get out of their way and let them do what they do best. Again, we’re not going home until you have lights.”
He said interactions with the majority of customers, though, are positive, with many people expressing their appreciation for the utility crews. He said those mean a lot because crews are working around the clock and sometimes far from home to restore electricity.
Jackie Sargent, the general manager of Austin Energy, said the utility is still sticking to its latest timeline of having power restored to “a majority of outages” by Feb. 12. She sought to reassure those without power that “we haven’t forgotten about you.” She said this estimate includes factors like rate of restoration since the start of the storm, the number of workers involved in the restoration process, more complete damage assessments and the potential impact of rainy, windy weather this week.
“You in the community can help us meet our goal by not interfering with our crews’ ability to access work sites,” Sargent said Monday. “If our crews feel unsafe and must leave due to a threatening environment, that will slow our restoration efforts.”
Sargent said she anticipates lights will return for many customers well before Sunday. However, Austin Energy is supposed to provide an updated timeframe for the crews’ work by mid-week.
On Thursday morning, the Austin City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss whether City Manager Spencer Cronk’s job may be on the chopping block because of the response to last week’s destructive ice storm. Mayor Kirk Watson wrote on Twitter Monday that he added the emergency item to the agenda “because the management of this situation and the lack of clear and timely and accurate communication has left our community in the dark. It is unacceptable. The City of Austin can and will do better.”