SOUTH KINGSTOWN — When the heavy winds and rain of Tropical Storm Isaias hit South Kingstown, Town Manager Robert Zarnetske reported that 50 trees fell down during the first hour alone.
“It was definitely a pretty significant wind event,” Zarnetske told members of the town council on Tuesday night, a full week after the storm. “It points out, in my mind, again, the need for us to really get in front of a forest management program.”
“We need to start thinking about tree management, pruning of old trees, and planting of new trees as we go,” he said.
According to National Grid, at the peak of the storm, around 7 p.m. on Aug. 4, nearly 190,000 customers in Massachusetts and 137,000 in Rhode Island were without power. More than 381,000 customers in total lost their power at some point during the storm.
The day after the storm, thousands of Rhode Islanders were still in the dark. That morning, 77,000 Ocean State customers were still without power.
Thousands of personnel and out-of-state support crews were deployed all over New England to help remove downed wires, fallen trees, broken poles and other hazards. By Friday, National Grid was reporting that 94 percent of customers who’d lost power during the storm had seen it restored.
In South Kingstown, the damages and power outages caused by the storm were readily apparent after virtual public meetings had to be canceled.
While thankfully no one was harmed, Town Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz had been attempting to run a school building committee meeting when a large tree branch fell down on Jerry Brown Farm Road, taking down power lines in the process.
Da Cruz said his family went two or three days without power, and by the time it came back on, he’d counted eight National Grid trucks in his neighborhood, all working to resolve the issue.
According to Zarnetske, close to 5,000 households in South Kingstown lost power because of the storm, including the Recreation Center and the Neighborhood Guild.
Town Public Services Director Jon Schock has gone back out with an advertisement to hire an arborist, but they’ve been tough to find, according to Zarnetske. Because of budget approvals from the council, the town could have hired an arborist back in July 2019. One year and a month later, the search still continues.
Skilled arborists are in high demand, Zarnetske said, so when they become available “folks like National Grid snatch them up when they can.” This can make it very difficult to compete in the hiring processes, he said, especially if other employers can afford to pay corporate salaries.