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News >  Idaho

How To Stop A Squirrel’s Power Lunch

Marauding rodents with a taste for power cables? A single squirrel with the power to shut down all the area’s TV stations and most of the radio stations for eight hours?

Such are the headaches at Idaho Power, the major power company that serves southern Idaho.

The company’s wrapping up a $100,000 construction project to prevent a repeat of the squirrel-kills-the-airwaves incident. It happened in September 1994, when a squirrel up near the top of Bogus Basin Ski Resort somehow chewed through an insulating sheath and a main power cable, throwing area broadcasters into the dark.

“We think it was either an act of desperation or suicide,” said Dennis Lopez, Idaho Power Co. spokesman. “They were off the air for a long time.”

Now the power company has put in a new switch and a “redundant line.” Lopez explains: “If there is some kind of an outage, another depressed rodent or something, the switch will automatically go to a different power source.”

But it won’t solve all of Idaho Power’s squirrel problems. Apparently the furry little rodents that skip regularly along the overhead power lines of Boise’s North End are a common cause of power outages. If they touch two lines at once, they get zapped, and so do the lines. Lopez had no estimate of how many squirrel-caused outages Boise suffers, since there’s no way to tell how many shorts are caused by tree limbs, the other most common cause.

Northern squirrels don’t cause such a ruckus, at least not since Washington Water Power began installing special guards on its transformer bushings 30 years ago. Coeur d’Alene area manager Paul Anderson said the number of squirrel-caused outages dropped way down. Boise has installed some guards, too, but they haven’t solved the problem. Maybe the more determined squirrels have moved south.

You’re doing what?

Walt Minnick, the Republican-turned-Independent who’s running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, admits his party status has caused a little confusion even within his own family. About two months ago, Minnick called his 82-year-old mother and told her he was thinking seriously about running for the Senate. “She said, ‘Son, I thought Idaho already had two Republican senators.”’

While the cat’s away

Maybe it’s just coincidence that Idaho has decided to rethink the BSU-University of Idaho engineering battle now. While the UI is between presidents.

Last year, Micron Technology offered the state $6 million to start a new engineering school at BSU. Since engineering has long been UI’s turf, the idea caused an uproar. Eventually, the state Board of Education voted to offer only UI-run engineering courses at BSU. Micron took its money and went to Utah, where it built a huge plant and got an engineering program started nearby.

Now that UI President Elisabeth Zinser has departed and the state is in the midst of an extended search for her replacement, the issue is back. The board hired a consultant who said it would be crazy not to offer a program at BSU that the community and local industry clearly wanted, would fund and would use.

Some BSU folks have taken it so far that they’re saying if they could just change the name over the door of the engineering building to their own, they could raise more money for the program. This past week, the board voted to do it.

It’s hard to tell whether the issues here are responding to community needs or just Vandals vs. Broncos.

, DataTimes MEMO: North-South Notes runs every other Sunday. To reach Betsy Z. Russell, call 336-2854, fax to 336-0021 or e-mail to bzrussell@rmci.net.

North-South Notes runs every other Sunday. To reach Betsy Z. Russell, call 336-2854, fax to 336-0021 or e-mail to bzrussell@rmci.net.

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