It was Washington state’s biggest snowstorm in decades, and Benton REA’s John Richards, Cody Bradshaw and Willie Yager were out all day, restoring power in whiteout conditions and towering drifts. Snow events of this magnitude are rare, and by 11 p.m. the journeymen linemen were ready to call it a day.
But then the state’s highway patrol called. Snowdrifts and blizzard conditions had trapped several motorists—an older couple, a family of four and three hunters—in a remote, south-central part of the state. They’d been stuck since late that afternoon on Feb. 9. Could Benton REA and Benton Public Utility District help—and could they bring their snow vehicles?
Both organizations answered the call in the Horse Heaven Hills: Benton REA in a Tucker snowcat and Benton PUD in a smaller Polaris Ranger with tracks. Crews spent four hours transporting the motorists to safety.
“We were hauling people as fast as we could. At times we couldn’t see 5 or 6 feet in front of us, and we couldn’t tell where the road started and stopped,” said Richards.
For their efforts, each lineworker at Prosser-based Benton REA and Kennewick-based Benton PUD received the Washington State Patrol’s Commendation Award, as well as a state patrol Challenge coin during a March 27 ceremony in Prosser. In addition to the Benton REA crews, awards also went to Mike Bradshaw, general manager, and Benton PUD’s Joe Garner and Shawn Heibert.
“At Benton REA, we believe that our obligation to the people in our local communities goes beyond providing electricity,” said Bradshaw.
Washington state isn’t known for epic blizzards; the Tri-Cities area served by Benton REA has a semi-arid climate. But the storm contributed to a 20-inch snowfall for all of February, making that month the snowiest in more than 100 years.
And the co-op and PUD lineworkers felt the snowstorm’s wrath. During the rescue, both vehicles got stuck in deep snow and they dug each other out, adding about 30 minutes to the four-hour rescue. “It absolutely would have been a long night for all without the team effort,” said Jeff Ekrut, operations manager at Benton REA.
Crews worked until about 3 a.m., making about four to five trips to retrieve the motorists and drive them back to safety. While the co-op and PUD share the same service area, they haven’t had an opportunity to work together in this capacity—until now.
“They all had the know-how, skills and equipment, and they were the right guys at the right time,” said Jodi Henderson, manager of communications and government relations at Benton PUD.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.