This map shows where City Light will be working on a short-term solution to preventing frequent outages for the Magnolia 99.
This map shows where City Light will be working on a short-term solution to preventing frequent outages for the Magnolia 99.

Ninety-nine neighbors in Magnolia have one frustrating thing in common: they all had power outages nine times in the past year.

They received an apology from Seattle City Light on Wednesday night, as well as an update on short- and long-term solutions for keeping the power on in the future.

“Right now, we’re not performing the way that we should, especially within the past year,” said City Light customer care director Kelly Enright, who delivered the apology.

Residents on the southwest end of Magnolia experienced nine unplanned power outages between October 2017 and August, the longest lasting 15 hours on July 22.

Two of those incidents were caused by downed trees into overhead feeder power lines, and one was caused by a crow landing on a power pole, but the rest were all related to City Light’s aging infrastructure (Note: The cause of one that lasted for seven hours could not be determined).

“I finally unplugged my freezer,” said resident Alana Morris, who coined the name, “Magnolia 99,” for her fellow affected neighbors. “I said, ‘Forget it, I’m done.’ I’ve lost hundreds of dollars of food.”

Most of City Light’s 1,000 circuit miles of underground primary cables were installed in the 1970s, and the city is now working on a series of replacement projects.

City Light injected 59.9 percent of Magnolia’s underground cables with silicone in 2011, which extended their lifespan, but the other 40 percent were too old to be included in the injection program.

Enright put Magnolia’s electrical infrastructure simply: “It’s underground, and it’s outlived its useful life for the most part.”

Twenty-three percent of the outages in Magnolia were caused by cable failure.

City Light’s Cable Replacement Program replaces those cables that couldn’t be injected with silicone. A priority list was created based on a consultant study in 2013.

Magnolia is on the list of neighborhoods within City Light’s territory slated for cable replacement, but design and construction won’t start until 2021 and 2022, respectively.

It is ranked 11th out of 38 neighborhoods, and is behind Queen Anne, which has had a cable failure rate of 3 to 1 compared to Magnolia, according to City Light. Queen Anne’s cable replacement project is slated to enter the design phase in 2019.

Other criteria that were worked into the rankings were pavement restoration, budget, the city’s Race & Social Justice Initiative and the age of the cables.

In Magnolia, 23 percent of the 2017-18 outages were storm-related.

Enright said rankings are subject to change, should failure rates increase in certain neighborhoods more than others.

City Light does have a short-term plan for addressing the Magnolia 99, which includes replacing and reenergizing a cable that failed in August and putting it back in service in the area, and also replacing 1,000 feet of damaged cable.

Putting the cable back in service is expected to occur later this month or in November, and will require a three-hour planned outage. Enright said City Light will work with residents to determine a timing for the outage that is least inconvenient.

When the cable failed, the circuit was rerouted to return power to Magnolia customers, according to City Light’s Magnolia Neighborhood Outage Summary.

Designs for the replacement of 1,000 feet of cable is underway, and construction is expected to start in late 2019. The area where work will occur runs along Constance Drive West, from 36th Avenue West to Edgemont Place West, then south on Edgemont, and east on West Howe Street.

Before the cable is replaced, City Light will provide tree trimming in the area. Installing bird guards, which prevent them from landing on utility poles, is also planned, but a time for that work to be completed has not yet been determined.

Enright confirmed during the Oct. 3 meeting that funding is available for both the short-term and long-term projects.

Morris told the Magnolia News she hopes Debra Smith, the new City Light CEO, prioritizes hiring more staff to work on infrastructure repairs and improvements.

While she appreciated City Light’s efforts to keep the Magnolia 99 informed, Morris is not happy about waiting for long-term solutions for people on the southwest end of the neighborhood.

“It’s ridiculous that it should be three years out,” Morris said.

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