It was a dark and stormy night . . . no, I’m not writing a bad story for Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. It’s just that those words describe so well what we have been faced with this fall and winter and I don’t think we are in the clear yet.
We Whidbey Islanders have faced a wetter (more rainfall in the last 10 days than in all of last January), windier (by more than a 10 mph average over last year), and darker (more power outages in November ’06 through January ’07 than the last two years combined) winter season than I can ever remember.
Granted, my memory only goes back for eight years of local residency, but you get my point. It’s just plain nasty out there!
But from a tourism standpoint, all is not lost. There is sometimes a silver lining in the proverbial big dark cloud. I’ve read many letters to the editor lately, thanking the Puget Sound Energy employees who spend long days and nights, risking their very lives to get the power back on for us and I wish to formally add my thanks to go along with those other letter writers to the linesmen working hard for 18-hour stretches so we can stay warm or cook and eat hot food.
Well, I’m here to tell you that they do even more than that. They also help the local economy in big ways, other than providing us light to read by and especially at Christmas — to shop by.
The power outages this year have been so severe and so widespread that PSE has brought hundreds, maybe thousands, of men from all over the western United States, just to attempt to keep up with the demand for more power. These hale and hearty fellows have been here alone, away from friends and family. They’ve been here alone during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holidays, separated from their own loved ones. When they’re not working, what do they do? They don’t have much time, but they must sleep and eat. Where do you suppose they perform these mundane everyday tasks? No place else, but right here in Oak Harbor.
Just at the Coachman Inn, over the last three months we’ve welcomed more than 100 workers. All of these men were here for more than one or two nights; all of them dining out. The sales tax revenue to the city was more than $2,100 from lodging alone. Anymore, when I see a PSE or Potelco truck, I smile and wave.
The other tourist aspect of all this wonderful winter weather is that some of these men may be back with their families at a later (more than likely summer time) date. And locally, with all the news coverage about power, wind, and waves; at least the folks around the Puget Sound will know where we are located (as opposed to an Eastside poll a couple of years ago, when Kirkland residents could barely pick us out on a map).
So, these storms are not all bad, but I am getting just a little tired of keeping an eye on my neighbors’ trees and trying to heat canned chili over my gas fireplace flame (it helps if you remove the glass screen and suspend a kettle over the log set – just keep an eye on your carbon monoxide alarm).