Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ensuring Electric Power While Preserving Trees and Beauty -- What Deerfield Did

The Historic Deerfield magazine Autumn 2011 cover of a brilliant issue

A photo of a gavel made from a utility pole from Historic Deerfield Autumn 2011 magazine

A photo of the letter from Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson

Thousands in Massachusetts as well as in Connecticut are still without electric power for the seventh day, since the snowstorm hit our area on October 29, 2011, severely disrupting our daily lives, commerce, transportation, and education.

During this horrific week, there have been pockets of salvation, where families could seek warmth, food, and shelter because the electric power still flowed (but only if they knew of where to go).

I have been writing about what has transpired during this past week on this blog and there are new cases of people dying in their homes because of either carbon monoxide poisoning since they were doing what they could to try to stay warm or from hypothermia (freezing to death).

This snowstorm / electric power failure disaster (yes, the government has now declared it officially) happened in October and is now in the second week. It is still autumn and this set of cascading network failures does not portend well for the upcoming winter season (clearly the fact that many of our trees still had leaves on and that the snow was very wet and heavy played a huge role in the downing of the trees and the neighboring electric power lines).

During this period, our mail still got delivered and our local newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, published a special disaster issue last Monday by using the editorial offices of The Greenfield Recorder, which had power, and having the copy emailed (luckily, the Internet worked there), to a newspaper in Concord, NH, which then printed the issue. Obviously, transporting the issues was not trivial, given the downed trees and power lines.

Our mailman also delivered a copy of Historic Deerfield, Autumn 2011 to us. This is a magazine produced by Historic Deerfield.

My husband read the issue first and told me that I should read it, too, and I was transfixed.

This issue was prepared and published before our snowstorm and electric power disaster and the last article, To Form a More Perfect Deerfield, by David Bosse, has lessons for our country.

The article speaks about how Henry and Helen Flynt became enamored with the beauty of Deerfield, in western Massachusetts, as well as its unique place in US history, when they enrolled their son at Deerfield Academy in 1936.

And, as early as the 1950s, Mr. Flynt started to explore the possibility of burying the utility lines in Old Deerfield in order to remove the utility poles that were marring the beauty of the landscape. He not only cared about the beauty of the area but he also wanted to preserve the stately elm trees. In letters to stakeholders he listed the advantages of removing the utility poles, noting the harm to the trees from the severe pruning done by the electric company.

The stakeholders were convinced -- even WMECO (the Western Mass Electric Company which has been in the news alot due to the pace of restoration in our area) agreed to the plan back in 1966!

According to the article, "By the following spring, power, telephone, and fire alarm service had been buried in a 10,500 foot trench. The last utility pole came down during a ceremony on May 24, 1967."

Incredibly, the Flynts (and one of their great-graddaughters was a classmate of my daughter's up the street at The Bement School), received help for their truly original project from Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Above is the letter that she wrote to Mrs. Flynt, which was republished in the autumn issue of the Historic Deerfield magazine.

And the Flynts had made gavels as souvenirs out of the utility poles that were removed.

45 years after, Old Deerfield survived the snowstorm and both historic Deerfield and Deerfield Academy did not lose electric power (and, somehow they also survived the one in 500 years flood due to Hurricane Irene).

My daughter, since we had no electricity and the night temps dipped to the 20s, lived at Deerfield Academy, during this period, and slept on the floors of dorm rooms that her friends kindly shared.

Let's improve our critical infrastructure by burying the utility lines, while preserving trees, beauty, as well as our air, at the same time.

Thanks to the Flynts for their brilliance and to Historic Deerfield for the wisdom and courage of historic preservation as well as critical infrastructure protection!