Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Despite evidence showing grown trees standing dangerously in the path of high-voltage wires all over the Corporate Area, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) said it has not discontinued its bushing programme in the city, but some of its own workers say some of the damage seen was caused by branches grounding with high voltage wires.
Following the passage of Hurricane Sandy two weeks ago a JPS worker told Sunday Gleaner that some of the problems could have been avoided had the company continued its bushing programme on a regular basis.
"In some instances damage to JPS, equipment and peoples' appliances happened because trees were in the way of high-voltage wires. When there is contact it can cause electrocution to anyone coming in contact with the tree as a carrier of electricity," he told Sunday Gleaner.
While he did not report any equipment damage, a 76-year-old retiree, who has spent the last 40-years in the St Andrew home he shared with his wife Violet, said for years no bushing has taken place on the avenue.
Pointing to rows of overgrown trees on the avenue, he said, "Everywhere on the avenue you look there are trees and branches directly in the path of the wires. In years gone by, I used to see the JPS trucks with the men carefully cutting the trees and loading the branches and take them away."
During the coverage of the Hurricane The Sunday Gleaner news team travelled to several communities showing overgrown trees in the way of high-voltage wires. Sections of downtown Kingston, including Duke Street, Eastwood Park Gardens, Pembroke Hall, and Vineyard Town, showed trees and wires fighting for the same space above ground.
The JPS's corporate relations manager, Winsome Callum said the company conducts bushing regularly in the Corporate Area.
"The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has never discontinued its bushing regime. JPS engages in bushing almost on a daily basis across the island," Callum responded to Sunday Gleaner queries.
She said suggestions that the company discontinued the bushing as a cost-cutting measure were untrue.
"The JPS has never made such a decision as this has implications for our business operations. When vegetation causes interruptions in supply to customers, this impacts the business," she stated.
However, if and when such interruptions occur and result in damage, cost "... is absorbed by the company," Callum stated.
The JPS has established a self-insurance fund of US$20M, which represents five per cent of the US$360 million in current assets held by the company. A surcharge is passed on to customers if damage to its system is more then the US$20M.
Customers last faced a surcharge to pay for the damage caused by the more devastating Hurricane Ivan in 2004. It was after that the insurance fund was created.
However, as a result of Hurricane Sandy, damage to equipment, including those caused by overgrown trees, although initially understated, is not expected to exceed the sum.
The company will absorb repair costs.
In the meantime, electrician Robert Wint has warned individuals to be careful of trees in the path of wires.
He told Sunday Gleaner that trees, like the body, are good conductors of electricity. Electricity, he said, naturally flow to the ground through anything that will conduct, or carry the current.
Among them is the human body.
"If a JPS wire comes in contact with a tree and you are in the tree, you are a dead man. And if you see wires in contact with a tree, do not attempt to remove the limbs unless someone who is certified is guiding what you do," Wint said.