Power outage, general confusion follows
by BETH ALTENA
A man walking the White Pine Trail narrowly escaped with his life after a swan flew into a live power line, resulting in an explosion and the arcing, live wire shooting sparks and fire on the popular trail. The incident left the downtown without power for about an hour and left the city buzzing with speculation and rumor.
The collision of the mute swan with the overhead wire and the live electrical wire in windy conditions created a safety hazard quickly handled by members of the Rockford Police Volunteer Services Unit, the Rockford Fire Department, and eventually by Consumers Energy, who fixed the line. The swan suffered fatal injuries on impact and its body was flung by the explosion to the steps of the Rogue River Tavern, where patron Ed Ross found it. Ross said he went outside after electricity to the Tavern and much of downtown went out after the incident Thursday, March 17 just before 1 p.m.
The trail was closed off for about an hour when Consumers Energy fixed the line.
According to Andrea DeWard of Studio D2D, who was taking out the trash when the accident happened, “There was a giant flash and an explosion.” She said she felt sorry for the people who were nearby on the trail and she saw the man directly under the wire jump about 10 feet in the air. DeWard said she initially thought a car had exploded. “It scared me,” she said. She also noted that the explosion left a strong smell in the air.
Danea, 20, was doing homework for her Grand Rapids Community College courses when the power went out in Epic coffee shop. She looked up and saw the white body of the swan fly through the air and land behind the cars parked at the Tavern. “I looked up and saw this white thing falling from the sky,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see that. You never know what a day is going to be like.”
Fans of the pair of swans who live in the upper pond of the Rogue River dam will be reassured that those swans were alive and well following the incident. It is speculated that the swan, who had been seen recently in the lower pond of the dam, may have been an immature male looking for a mate.
Both the swan killed and the two in the dam are mute swans, an ornamental species currently under controversy after the Michigan DNR approved plans in February to reduce their estimated 15,000 statewide population to as few as 2,000.
According to the DNR, Michigan has the highest population of mute swans in the state and they are a threat to native species such as the trumpeter swan, loons and species of ducks, which are classified as threatened. Mute swans are identifiable from trumpeter swans by their larger size and their orange bills with a black knob the base. Trumpeter swans have black bills. Mute swans average 25 pounds and have a wingspan of eight feet. The male mute swan, called a cob, is identical to the female except it is larger and with a more prominent knob.
The DNR proposed in December 2010 and approved February 10, 2011 a plan to allow the DNR to eradicate swans by verbal approval and made it illegal to possess a mute swan, for example if it is injured and taken to a rehabilitation facility. The DNR said other control methods, such as egg destruction and relocation, have not been successful enough in limiting mute swan populations, which have more than doubled since 2000, when an estimated 5,400 swans populated the state, to 15,000 in the spring of 2010. The approval of the swan population reduction plan has raised controversy from fans of the birds.
In 2008 a swan kill-off on Big Whitefish Lake prompted a Grand Rapids Press article and statements by the DNR that the issue was handled poorly. In that case, the lake association members requested permission to remove the swans, which numbered about 90. The DNR gave the association the go ahead, as did the township. A visitor to the lake was horrified when men with guns began shooting the swans indiscriminately, male, female and young alike.
The DNR spokesman said it was not wise to shoot the 51 birds at one time, as the process was “an emotional issue to the public.”
Rockford’s dead swan was promptly removed by the City.