Stuart Teeters

Stuart Teeters, with his neighbor, David Rubin, in the background, said outages in the Font Hill neighborhood have increased under Constellation Energy, BGE's parent company. (Photo by Noah Scialom / November 22, 2011)

There have always been power blips in Font Hill, not to mention sporadic, hours-long outages.

Residents of the Ellicott City neighborhood have generally just huffed in frustration and went about their business.

Then, in August, Hurricane Irene brought an eight-day power outage to 26 homes, which was a new record. Residents fumed as the hours in the dark stacked up, and began voicing their anger about the longstanding unreliability of their power.

The extended outage, which scared some residents who use electric-powered medical equipment, has since prompted involvement from local representatives, as well as promises from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials that steps are being taken to resolve the issues that are exposing the neighborhood to so many power problems.

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At a meeting with residents on Nov. 16, BGE officials discussed an assessment of the local power circuit they'd completed after being contacted by Howard County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, and West Friendship Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman, among others.

They've since identified a three-step approach of trimming back problematic tree branches, updating fuse equipment and improving the interconnectivity of the local infrastructure in order to decrease blips and speed recovery from outages.

Still, widespread frustration among residents remains.

A matter of public safety

The meeting Nov. 16 was reportedly heated. And while the lights in Font Hill are on, blips have continued, and residents still feel they've been left in the dark, they said.

"I don't feel any better about any of this problem than I did at the beginning of the meeting," said David Rubin, a resident of Grosvenor Drive for the last 20 years.

Rubin suffers from sleep apnea so severe that it briefly stops his breathing more than 80 times an hour when he's lying down, so he requires an electric machine to help him breathe at night, he said. During the eight-day outage after Irene, he used up his back-up battery quickly, but couldn't leave his three chihuahuas behind to go to the hospital, he said.

"I went six nights in a row without sleeping," he said. "I was gagging all night long. I developed an infection. I could have died. I had to go on antibiotics."

The entire experience helped bring the issue to a head for Rubin's neighbor, Jim Mundy.

"They have the power, literally and figuratively," Mundy said of BGE. "They have the power to save people's lives. And, they have the power to say, 'No,' and they are."

Mundy, whose house was the first to be built on Grosvenor back in 1986, said the power issues have been occurring since he moved in, but he now considers them a public safety concern.

He remembers looking out his window in early September, during the Irene outage, and seeing some of his neighbors wandering around — an eerie experience.

"When I saw people roaming the streets, it was like 'Night of the Zombies,' " he said. "People looking for BGE trucks. I thought, 'What are you going to do, attack these guys?'"

Sensing and sharing the frustration of his neighbors, and hoping to avoid a confrontation with BGE workers, Mundy called Watson, the Ellicott City neighborhood's representative on the county council, to ask for help.

Watson, as it turns out, had already been to the neighborhood in recent days, along with Kittleman and county firefighters, to share information with residents about available county services and to remind them of safety precautions to take with gas-powered generators.

"That's really when it came to my attention, (Kittleman's) attention, that there had been consistent problems with Font Hill," Watson said.