City Seeks Squirrel Solution

ST. MARYS — On Monday, a city committee will hear options regarding preventing short power outages caused by squirrels.

St. Marys Safety-Service Director Tom Hitchcock is expected to talk with St. Marys Electric Committee members about the feasibility of allowing the live trapping of squirrels during squirrel season inside the city limits. During the Aug. 8 city council meeting, Hitchcock said the recent surge in short outages have been attributed to squirrels tripping circuits.

“Say a squirrel falls into a line right now — it will trip the circuit for 5 to 10 seconds and it will try to kick itself back on,” Hitchcock said. “So you may put a thousand people out for 5 to 10 seconds. If we do it the other system, what happens is a squirrel falls in the line and it burns a fuse and it won’t kick itself back on. Then the crews have to go out and repair the fuse so it could put 20 people out for an hour and a half. That’s the reason it was set up that way in the beginning.”

The city’s power system is designed so that when a circuit trips, it causes a short — approximately 5 seconds — outage to numerous homes. In the old system, a fuse would trip and that would cause a longer outage to a smaller number of homes.

“We were operating on the philosophy of short outages to many people as compared to long outages to a few was acceptable,” Electric Superintendent Jerry Wolfe said.

“With our growing squirrel population, it seems like we are having a lot of short outages.”

Allowing a circuit to trip also helps prevent long outages on the weekends and after hours. Hitchcock noted it allows the city to save on overtime and manpower as well.

“You aren’t having to call people in,” Hitchcock said. “And people are only out for 5 to 10 seconds.”

Officials have revamped some circuits around the city that were getting hit often by squirrel-related outages. Those lines have been replaced with fuses.

“We got so many complaints about these 5 second outages that we took a few and changed them back to the fuse,” Hitchcock said.

“And we have avoided several of these 5 second outages but it’s also put some people without power for an hour and it’s cost us overtime to have people come in.”

Hitchcock attributed approximately 80 percent of the 5 second outages to squirrels. By reducing the population, Hitchcock said he hopes to slice the number of outages.

Power poles do have squirrel guards installed to prevent the animals from crawling to the top. However, the squirrels often make it on to poles by scurrying on lines running from the homes to the main power line.

Right now, Hitchcock is in the process of getting in contact with the game warden to determine if allowing the live trapping of squirrels by city residents during squirrel season is legal.

The topic is expected to be discussed during the electric committee meeting at 5:15 p.m. on Monday.

“We know squirrel season is coming up, all we want to do is, as long as it’s legal to live trap squirrels, we’d like to allow the live trapping of squirrels in town,” Hitchcock said. “We want to follow hunting season rules, we just need to verify that you can live trap squirrels to begin with because we’ve heard it both ways.”

Hitchcock reiterated no city crews would be live trapping squirrels.

That task would be opened up to residents as long as it is legal.

“We don’t plan on sending city guys out to live trap squirrels,” Hitchcock said. “We are going to allow the hunting of the squirrels during hunting season.”

On another topic that surfaced this week, Hitchcock said an exterminator sprayed most of a neighborhood that was infested with fall webworms. The exterminator will be in town next week to finish up and anyone with signs of an infestation can call the city at 419-394-3303 to report it.

“We haven’t heard any complaints so it appears to be working,” Hitchcock said. “We are going to re-evaluate in the spring and in the winter, we are pretty much going to clear cut Weston Woods so that should eliminate those from coming back in those woods.”