The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 29, 2012

St. Peter workers aid in New York hurricane rebuilding

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — For St. Peter municipal utility workers Pat McShane and Brian Shellum, volunteering to work 10 straight 16-hour days in hurricane-ravaged New York was a no-brainer.

“It was about a two-second decision,” Shellum said. “I thought, sure, why not, it’s something different.”

Said McShane, “I thought it would be a fine opportunity to go help people who needed assistance. If no one came to help, it would be a pretty sad world.”

McShane and Shellum were part of a recovery convoy to New York that was sponsored by the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association.

They and utility workers from about a dozen state communities took two days to drive their city rigs to New York City.

 The St. Peter pair took the city’s largest utility vehicle, a “digger derrick” used for setting power poles and toting transformers.

McShane said the work crew’s lodging was humble — cots in a county park where they restored power. But that was still an upgrade from their first night’s stay in an abandoned armory with about 300 volunteer workers.

Their work was concentrated on Long Island, where Hurricane Sandy had caused massive power outages. Some residents who went 10 days and more without electricity treated the linemen like conquering heroes upon their arrival.

“The majority of people were very happy to see us,” McShane said. “Some had been using portable generators and others were using propane heaters.”

And still others were simply toughing it out in temperatures falling into the mid-40s at night.

Shellum said one day they drove into a neighborhood to drop off poles to be installed later, only to be approached by a pleading woman.

“One lady didn’t want us to leave. She wanted us to stay and give her power.”

The crew’s recovery tasks were made even more challenging by a second bout of bad weather. One day workers restored power to an area by repositioning a line, only to have a snowstorm knock it back down.

During their stay, McShane and Shellum received their full city wages  plus overtime pay. It was arduous duty but they said they’d do it again.

“It’s a rewarding feeling, but obviously it’s not for everybody,” McShane said.

Added Shellum, who recalls the welcome assistance other cities provided when St. Peter was devastated by a tornado in 1998, “Any storm job is kind of fun to work because it makes people happy.”