As a member-owned utility, Missoula Electric Cooperative (MEC) strives to uphold a commitment to service excellence, while delivering safe, affordable, and reliable electricity to its members. It is in this spirit that we are working on a project to replace the underground electric cables servicing the El Mar Estates neighborhood.
Right now, El Mar estates residents are experiencing frequent power outages due to underground cable failures because they are reaching the end of their useful life. This project replaces underground power lines installed close to 40 years ago with modern, reliable lines. We began surveying in early May of 2020 and broke ground in September of 2020. We plan to continue underground boring and conduit placement through the end of 2020. Beginning in the Spring of 2021, we will be working on replacing the aging underground electric cables and connecting them to new pad mounted transformers. You’ll receive plenty of notice and opportunities for communication throughout the construction process.
THE EL MAR ESTATES POWER UPGRADE WILL:
Replace aging underground electric cables throughout the El Mar Estates neighborhood
Reduce the need for open-cut trenching by utilizing directional boring to install conduits between transformers. The new cables are then pulled through the conduits and connected to new transformers resulting in reliable, safe power.
Install new transformers above ground to improve access and safety for future maintenance
Begin with Phase 1 construction on September 8, 2020 and continuing to through Phase 2 and Phase 3 into the spring of 2021. View phase map.
No upgrade costs will be billed to the members in the El Mar Estates. These upgrades will be paid by MEC’s annual operations & maintenance budget.
PROJECT UPDATE JANUARY 2021
After careful review, we uncovered ways that we could update and innovate our original project design to:
minimize impact and disturbance to yards, landscaping and fencing that were present during the original power installation;
minimize road crossings;
and improve access for future maintenance.
In order to lessen the impact on our members, our project team updated the timeline to reflect the following:
Phase 1, underground boring and conduit placement, occurred in late-September through October. We then moved to phase 2, which ran from October through December. Phase 3 also began in December and will continue through mid-winter. Please review the attached phase map to locate your residence and respective phase.
This slight timeline adjustment means the work is scheduled to ensure no planned power outages related to the project occur over the holidays and during the coldest days. Weather permitting, the work will continue through the winter. After the underground boring is complete and conduit is in place, crews will set equipment to pull new cables and connect them to the new transformers.
Open-trench excavations will be minimized by MEC and Rocky Mountain Contractors, and the easements and yards will be restored at the end of the project.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Know your property: Is there a transformer that will need to be accessed?
To prepare for construction, we’ll need your help ensuring access to the transformer and that it is clear for our crews. Our crews will need access to each of the transformer locations with a mini-excavator, approximately 6-feet wide. We are also required by the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) to maintain safe clearances from each of our transformers. For vegetation, this includes 10-feet minimum of clear space in front of the transformer and 1-foot on the other three sides. All buildings should be a minimum of 10-feet from transformers in any direction. For the safety of Missoula Electric Coop’s workers and the Contractor, we will need to verify these safe–space clearances before the start of the project. This handout on transformers helps explain the clearances needed.
Share facts and important information with us
We will reach out to you to learn more about your lot and what steps will need to be taken so that we are all prepared for construction. In the meantime, please go to your account and update your preferences if you would like to be contacted.
Prepare for an outage
If you or anyone in your household depends on electrically operated medical equipment, plan to have a backup power supply or make alternate plans for using those devices and for refrigerating medications. The planned outages related to the El Mar Power Upgrade project are not anticipated to last longer than 8 hours. However, it is always good practice to be prepared for a power outage by protecting your computer and other electronics and having battery-operated flashlight, radio, clock, and extra batteries on hand. Learn how to open your garage door manually. Build and maintain contact lists and social networks so you can stay informed and communicate with friends and family.
PROTECT YOURSELF DURING A POWER OUTAGE:
Keep freezers and refrigerators closed.
Do not use a gas stove to heat your home.
Disconnect appliances and electronics.
Have alternate plans for refrigerating medicines or using power-dependent medical devices.
If safe, go to an alternate location for heat or cooling.
Check on neighbors.
More tips are available at Ready.gov.
Share facts with your neighbors
Over the course of the project, the entire El Mar Estates neighborhood will have new underground electric cable to more than 400 homes installed.
Because it will happen in phases with a cluster of homes at a time, there will be plenty of time to prepare.
You can help by sharing facts with your neighbors and encouraging them to visit ElMarPowerUpgrade.com.
MINIMIZING THE IMPACT TO YOU
To begin this work and minimize impact to residents, we have developed an updated map of the area to make sure the construction plan is as precise as possible. Surveying took place in early May. Construction will be scheduled in three phases. The work will impact clusters of 3-to-5 homes at a time. Review the project map here.
Preparing for construction: is there a transformer in my yard? Where is the public utility easement?
We recognize that many current residents may not know exactly where the public utility easement runs through their yard. The underground electric cables and transformers were placed in these easements over 40 years ago with the passage of time lot improvements may have been made that could be in conflict with the safe operation of the electric system.
In some cases, residents may have unknowingly placed sheds, fences, trees or other landscaping over the electric line or adjacent to a transformer or enclosure. In advance of construction, we will need to make sure that the Contractor and Missoula Electric Coop have safe access to the transformers and enclosures. Read more: "What is a pad-mounted transformer?"
Our crews will need access to each of the transformer locations with a mini-excavator, approximately 6-feet wide. We are also required by the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) to maintain safe clearances from each of our transformers. For vegetation, this includes 10-feet minimum of clear space in front of the transformer and 1-foot on the other three sides. All buildings should be a minimum of 10-feet from transformers in any direction. Once we finish surveying, we’ll have a much better picture of which yards we will need to address easement access in advance of construction.
Before construction begins, we want to hear from you! Do you have any buildings, trees or landscaping that might have been placed above the public utility easements? Encroachments on the public utility easement need to be cleared before construction can begin. Rocky Mountain Contractors will work with each member on individualized site-restoration plans, as needed.
The construction process will include directional-boring to minimize above-ground disturbance as we install the new electric conduits and cables. Some open-trench excavation will be required to complete the installation, primarily near transformer locations. Open-trench excavations will be minimized by MEC and the Contractor and the easements and yards will be restored at the end of the project.
Down the road, to safely complete this work, we will need to shut the power off when we disconnect the old cables and connect the new cable along with replacing above-ground transformers.
Outages could last up to 8 hours depending on the work involved. If you will be impacted by this work, we will notify you in advance of the outage. Power outages will be scheduled to happen during regular business hours (not overnight). You will either get a notice in your mailbox or receive a visit from the construction project management team in advance of the outage. We will make every effort to notify you of these outages in advance, using door hangers, post cards and/or phone calls. There are some simple ways you can prepare for a planned outage. Please see our “How You Can Help” section below along with Ready.gov or more tips.
During the construction phase, there will also be construction equipment on site, construction noise, and partial road restrictions in certain cases.
Sometimes outages due to equipment failure do occur and we are unable to notify you in advance. If this happens, we will communicate outage updates to you via email, phone and/or text message, depending on your account preferences. If you are not currently signed up for outage alerts, you can opt-in via your account page.
See our Frequently Asked Questions segment for more information.
Missoula Electric Cooperative, Inc. (MEC) was founded in 1936 and is a member-owned rural electric cooperative that serves electricity to members in Montana (six counties) and Idaho (one county). MEC strives to uphold a commitment to service excellence, while delivering safe, affordable and reliable electricity to its members. These principal focuses are further enhanced with innovative energy solutions and a deep-rooted involvement in the communities we serve.
HISTORY OF MISSOULA ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE
In early 1936, a group of local farmers and ranchers united to serve power to their homes and farms. After countless meetings, applications, and approvals, the first Missoula Electric Cooperative lines were energized in 1938 and served electricity to the homes of 125 members within a 75-mile service area. This was the humble beginning of what has flourished over the past eight decades and now provides energy to over 13,000 member-owners across 2,000 miles of overhead and underground power line. All of this was achieved by a small network of neighbors who banded together to achieve a common goal.
What was once a small rural utility, has progressed to serve residential and commercial members in seven counties and two states. Though we are consistently evolving, our mission and outlook remain the same. We are neighbors helping neighbors – and together, we provide safe, affordable and reliable energy to our member-owners.