Another power outage closes Vevay grocery store, reopening unknown

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When the town of Vevay lost power for 22 hours on June 18th-19th, many residents and businesses were impacted, but one of the hardest hit was the Vevay IGA, which was forced to discard perishable products and file a claim with its insurance company.

The insurance company had already informed owner Eric Rabe that the store’s insurance coverage would be terminated due to excessive claims that were caused by electrical outages; but a new company agreed to take on the store – although it was for a higher premium and less coverage – and the Vevay IGA was able to reopen.

A public meeting with officials from Duke Energy was then held on July 8th; and the leadership team of the company outlined a six-week plan to trim vegetation and do other work around its power lines to reduce the chance of future power outages caused by vegetation.

On Sunday morning of this week, workers at the Vevay IGA reported to work only to find that the three-phase electrical service – which powers the larger items in the store, such as compressors, refrigerated areas and freezers – had gone off sometime in time period since the store closed on Saturday night.

Duke workers were brought to the scene, and a third-party company was called in, and it was determined that an underground three-phase line that feeds the store was damaged, and needed to be replaced. Regular electric service to the IGA, and also the CVS Pharmacy and the Family Dollar store, which had not been impacted by the break in the three-phase line, had to then be shut down completely so that the work could be completed by workers safely.

Power was restored at approximately 6:40 p.m. Sunday night – an outage of approximately 18 hours that has again resulted in the discarding of perishable food items in the IGA.

The store has not reopened since the outage on Sunday, and Rabe said that he continues to be in the process of working through the Duke Energy system in terms of filing a claim on his most recent loss.

Rabe said that the line that caused the outage on Sunday was the same line that disrupted operations in October of last year, but at that time the line was spliced together; which he saw as only a temporary fix. On Sunday, workers completely replaced the line, eliminating the splice and replacing a line that some estimated was 30-40 years old.

Rabe provided a timeline for the work on Sunday:

• The outage happened sometime between the closing of the store at 9:30 p.m. Saturday night and when store workers came to open the store on Sunday morning at about 4:30 a.m.

• At 4:30 a.m., Rabe said that he called the store’s refrigeration company, because he and others thought that it might be some issue in the store. He said that workers from the company came from Northern Cincinnati, arriving at approximately 6 a.m. After they arrived, Rabe said that those workers quickly told IGA staff that the problem was outside the store, and that nothing internal was wrong.

• Rabe said that Duke was called at 5:30 a.m., and that workers from Duke arrived at the store at approximately 8:30 a.m.

“That person quickly determined that it was a problem underground,” Rabe said. “And they called in another Duke crew, and they also called a third party at 11:30 a.m. to do the trenching. They showed up at 2:30 p.m. and they trenched the line from the pole to the back of the store.”

• Once the trenching was completed, the work to replace the entire line occurred; with the electrical service being turned back on at 6:40 p.m. Sunday night.

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Rabe said that he filed an official claim with Duke Energy on Monday morning, asking that Duke pay for his losses because the loss occurred due to Duke’s line, not an act of nature. He said that there is no timeline as to when he will hear about his claim, but noted that when he filed a claim (which was denied) after the June outage, he heard from Duke in about a week.

“It was an 88-degree day, perfectly sunny,” Rabe said. “No rain, no weather, no moisture. What could have broken that thing outside of it simply being an old wire? It should have been replaced when they had the workers there back in October.”

Rabe said that the outage on Sunday resulted in the total loss of all the perishable items in the store. He said that a majority of the products were being donated to a food pantry.

If the claim to Duke is denied, Rabe said that his next course of action will be to consider filing a claim with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The IURC ruled that Duke was liable for past outages in a ruling that was made in July; but Duke is appealing that decision.

So where does this leave the future of the store?

Rabe said that it’s out of his control at this point.

“I have filed a claim with Duke,” Rabe said. “I’m hopeful, but very, very skeptical, that Duke is going to honor the claim; and even if they do honor the claim, I don’t know what that means. I assume they would cover the expenses on this, but from what I hear it’s very rare that it happens.”

Rabe said that everyone has been asking when the store will reopen.

He said that he honestly can’t answer that.

“I have no idea how long this thing could be,” he said. “If it’s going to be three months, I need to make a decision now. If it’s today (the decision on the claim), I may make a different decision…Do I want to reopen the store? Heck yes. I filed a claim with Duke on this last one, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”