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City Hall: Equipment helps Lincoln cut down on electric outages caused by squirrels and their swishing tails
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City Hall: Equipment helps Lincoln cut down on electric outages caused by squirrels and their swishing tails

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Cold Weather - Squirrel


Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

Squirrels have always been a major cause of electric outages in Lincoln because of the animals' love affair with transformers.

Transformers are those small, gray metal cylinders hanging from poles. The transformer converts the high-voltage electricity to a lower voltage that then moves on to houses and businesses.

Squirrels sit atop the transformers, particularly in the fall and winter, to take advantage of the tiny bit of heat the transformers provide.

And the squirrels swish their tails.

A transformer is connected by a wire to the high-voltage line above. And when that swishing tail comes into contact with that wire, the result is one electrocuted squirrel —  and an outage.

For a number of years, Lincoln Electric System has used an insulating product, developed by the industry specifically for squirrel and bird problems, that covers the high-voltage wire. The rubber tubing insulates the wire from squirrel tails.

Top causes of power outages

The biggest problem for LES' overhead wires are still Lincoln’s trees, which caused 125 outages last year.

But as the area covered by underground cable grows, so do the outages on that system. The early cable, installed in the late 1960s and '70s, is ending its life cycle. And last year, Allo’s very large fiber construction project, with the inevitable accidental cutting of LES cable, helped boost those outage numbers. 

LTU is new name

The city agency that fixes potholes, widens streets, replaces sidewalks, delivers water to your home, operates the sewer system, handles the watershed system, runs the landfill and oversees the StarTran bus system is changing its name.

Public Works and Utilities will soon become Lincoln Transportation and Utilities — or LTU — if the City Council approves.

Transportation is a better description than Public Works of what the department does, said director Miki Esposito.

StarTran isn’t represented in that name. Nor is railroad safety, she said.

“The most basic definition of transportation is the movement of people and goods. We have been finding all kinds of ways to move people and goods. That includes public transit and sidewalks and now bike lanes."

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed name change at its Monday meeting at 3:30 p.m. in the City Council chambers, 555 S. 10th St.

The department — with almost 600 employees and a $200 million budget, which includes state and federal funds for street projects — is the largest city agency.

The new name and a new logo — to be unveiled in January — will help people understand what the department does and who to call, Esposito said.

Don't forget about metal frames

Campaign yard signs have two parts, the sign and the frame. In last week’s column, I failed to explain the metal frames must be removed before the sign itself can be recycled.

The city says plastic signs can go in the plastic roll-offs and the paper signs can go in the cardboard roll-offs at the city’s recycling sites.

You can put both kinds of signs in your curbside containers, according to city recycling staff.

However, the metal frames cannot go to the city site or in your curbside containers. If you want to recycle the frames, rather than send them to the landfill, you can take them to Alter Metal Recycling, 6100 N. 70th St.

You can also take them to the community recycling drive hosted by Eastridge Elementary School PTO in the spring.

The PTO hosts an annual event in April — the exact date has yet to be announced. The group accepts a long list of items for recycling, including the metal frames from yard signs.

Or you can use them creatively at home. Donna Garden, assistant director for Public Works and Utilities, turned some metal frames into leaves for a palm tree light display in her backyard.

Michigan tree death toll

At least eight people in Michigan were killed by limbs falling from dead trees this year — five by ash, three by oaks, according to a reporter for the Detroit News.

Emerald ash borer was identified in Michigan in 2002 and is expected to eventually kill most of the state’s 700 million ash trees. And the dead trees become a brittle danger.

Lincoln’s plan for public ash trees is to remove many of them before they die from the insect and certainly before they are dead, brittle and potential killers.

Michigan is one of several states that have given up on halting the spread of the infestation and eliminated an in-state ash quarantine.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.


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Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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