Steel casing was being set aside when it cut power to Hatteras

By on July 31, 2017

Workers at the site of the dig where the cut occurred. (Rob Morris)

Susan Flythe of CHEC briefs Bob Woodard, Chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners, and Gov. Roy Cooper.

As Gov. Roy Cooper looked over the damage and offered assurances that every effort was being made to restore power, more details emerged Monday on how the only source of electricity to Hatteras and Ocracoke islands was severed in a construction accident last week.

Crews at the south end of the Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet were close to finding the last of three underground cables Monday afternoon but were having trouble pumping water out so that final repairs could begin.

One cable was spliced back together overnight after losing a two-foot section. A third first thought to be damaged was later found to be intact.

Cooper said he and his administration have offered the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative “all the resources that they need to get power back to these islands as quickly and as safely as possible.”

“Clearly when you’re talking about the economy of the Outer Banks, summertime is a great time for people to make their money and this situation has hurt,” he said. “So every day is important to the economy of this part of our state.”

The cooperative said today that it could be one or two weeks before full power is restored. But the company is trying to beef up its temporary generator system in hopes of allowing a staged return of visitors.

In the meantime, mandatory evacuations remain in place, which is preventing new visitors from reaching their rental houses on the islands. Residents are allowed to stay.

The power went out at 4:30 a.m. Thursday when the company building the replacement for the 50-year-old Bonner Bridge drove a steel casing into the electrical transmission system.

Casings are giant tubes that enclose individual concrete pilings to keep them in position while they are installed in clusters at various angles to support the bridge deck, said Jerry Jennings, District 1 engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Workers were setting aside the casing for future use by driving it partially into the ground.

The steel casing is the large brown tube on the right. (NCDOT)

Susan Flythe, executive vice president and general manager of CHEC, said it was not long before they realized there was a problem.

“As they drove that casing down into the ground, they heard a pop,” she said.

Power is delivered by three cables because electrical transmission employs a three-phase system to keep the current stable and flowing economically. All three are needed to make it work.

Thousands of people are waiting to hear whether their vacation plans can be salvaged, but no estimate for when power might be sufficient is available yet. In a typical summer week, 50,000 to 60,000 people vacation on the island, according to Dare County Public Relations Director Dorothy Hester.

Ocracoke is running on three portable generators, and there is no word yet about the possibility of producing enough temporary power to allow visitors back in. More than 3,000 people left on ferries after the evacuation for visitors was ordered last week.

But in a statement Sunday, CHEC said it was working “to expand the temporary generation service on Hatteras Island, in order to accommodate a staged re-entry of visitors.”

Two ideas for repairs are in play, the cooperative said. One is to splice the last damaged cable back together.

The second idea is to connect a new power line to the south end of the Bonner Bridge, run it overhead south along the east side of N.C. 12, then across to existing poles on the west side, Flythe said.  By Monday night, seven of the 10 poles needed had gone up.

Now, the existing lines are carried over Oregon Inlet by the bridge, then run underground before emerging onto the power poles south of the inlet. The transmission system will eventually be moved to the new bridge.

“CHEC will actively pursue both of these solutions until it is clear which of these will provide the fastest and safest option for a full repair,” the statement said.

“Depending on which solution turns out to be the most practical, the timeline for a complete repair could vary from one to two weeks.”

A makeshift system of portable generators and a permanent diesel backup system in Buxton is now providing minimal power to Hatteras Island.



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Comments

  • Toad Licker

    Wow.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 3:29 pm
  • Barney Bielecki

    Are you sure about the second option to take the wires 9,000 ft. south before reconnecting? That would be 1.7 miles.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 3:44 pm
  • Cynic Clinic

    So how does it work when the contractor cuts the line and causes all the economic hardships for the residents and business owners of Hatteras Island? Aren’t they responsible for working around utilities without causing disruption? Will PCL be responsible for paying for the outage and the financial repercussions from it? And, I may have missed it, but how did they hit the wires when the location of those wires should be known at all times?

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 4:19 pm
  • gsurf123

    Nice PR and photo opportunity for the governor that does absolutely nothing towards fixing the problem. Just stay in Raleigh and work on things you can fix. What a waste of resources running his caravan over to put on a hard hat.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 4:46 pm
  • Mike

    9000′ south? that’s a lot of cable and poles-even if PCL is paying for it? Better stick to splicing cut and then identify it with ground marker’s. After the line was moved in 2015, did PCL have a copy of the survey, blueprints, photo’s , as built’s and measurements of where the line was located underground to??? Dumb question? But I had to ask.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 4:57 pm
  • Dave H

    Can anyone please explain to me why CHEC was still looking for the source of the problem around noon when PCL hit the cable and “heard a pop” at 0430? I’d bet there was actually quite an arc to be seen!

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 5:31 pm
  • Dave H

    Also, gsurf, you are spot on! Politicians just get in the way and divert resources from the problem at hand when they appear for their photo ops!

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 5:33 pm
  • James

    A third option is to build a new power plant in Avon .

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 6:37 pm
  • Roadrunner

    Someone forgot to call Miss Utility.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 6:44 pm
  • Ben Dover

    What F’ing dopes. They couldn’t just lay the damn pipe down for later use. It’s not like they will blown away with the wind. This accident had nothing to do with the actual building of the bridge, but the asinine decision of a onsite project manager. I hope PCL has some good liability insurance because there’s lots of residents and businesses that are suffering due to there negligence.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 7:20 pm
  • Joey

    Seems to me the electric company would have there own representative on the job when casing are driven that close to there stuff. Wonder if Susan f. Was there when work was bein done on top of there wires? Plum shameful.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 7:34 pm
  • Bud

    Have to admit, it is wonderful here on Hatteras when evacuation orders are in effect! Especially with this cool weather. And the tropical storm approaching will give us a chance for surf and exciting weather.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 8:10 pm
  • Leanne

    Great question mike!!!

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 8:16 pm
  • Barney Bielecki

    PCL is doing everything it can to avoid admitting responsibility for this disaster. Their Facebook page is a joke, loaded with fawning comments on their excellent response to their own mistake; while also insinuating that it wasn’t really their fault. I hope that PCL is held fully accountable for all damages that have occurred to the residents, visitors and businesses on the Outer Banks.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 8:30 pm
  • Fishtales

    I was thinking they were talking about running new lines overhead the entire distance across the inlet but it now sounds like they are just talking about digging up the lines on the south side to the north just enough to come up a pole and go overhead across the bridge to the east and then back south away from the work zone and then jump to the west back to the old dip pole ( thats a pole where the underground wires come up ). To me that sounds like the best plan so they don’t have to worry about hitting it again. Looks like they still have alot of work to do on the south side.

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 8:32 pm
  • john

    who hired this company and what was liability for damages?

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 9:04 pm
  • Davis

    The Trumpkins are hilarious.

    If Cooper doesn’t come, it means he doesn’t care.

    If he does come, he’s wasting and doing nothing,

    Kellyanne Conway would be proud of you, gsurf!

    Monday, Jul 31 @ 11:03 pm
  • Country boy

    Just have one question. I’m not a rocket scientist but if it took 3 days to fix one cable and one is ok why are we talking about 2 weeks to fix the last one?

    Tuesday, Aug 1 @ 2:06 am
  • Obxer

    Tightn up your chin strap pcl here we come. Pretty work shutting southern obx down.

    Tuesday, Aug 1 @ 6:46 am
  • Really though

    Everyone seems so quick to jump on a lawsuit. Have you thought that it was an accident ? I’m sure PCL Had no intention of damaging the islands revenue. Hatteras Islander’s should be prepared for volitale living conditions of all kinds. Who do you sue when a Hurricane rolls through during season? God? There is a difference in damages created in malice and by accident. PCL will likely go bankrupt over this and many more will lose jobs. It is recommended to understand the nature of living on an island before moving to one and opening a business. You all should be ashamed….and more prepared.

    Tuesday, Aug 1 @ 7:12 am