Chappy power cable repairs get emergency okay


Edgartown selectmen voted Tuesday to authorize emergency repairs to the underwater cable that supplies power to Chappaquiddick. The vote allows NSTAR to bypass the usual permitting process and begin work immediately to install a manhole and new pole on Dock Street. NSTAR will also install a manhole on the Chappaquiddick side.

“We’re in urgent need to get that up, get that going,” NSTAR construction manager Fred Slade told the board. “We’re extremely concerned.”

In a presentation to selectmen, Mr. Slade and other NSTAR engineers explained that part of the submarine cable that once rested on the bottom of the harbor is now swinging freely in the water between Edgartown and Chappy.

The engineers believe increased harbor current has washed away some of the sand from the bottom of the narrow channel, leaving the cable suspended a few inches above the harbor floor. Tidal flow through the harbor changed dramatically in 2007, when a storm opened a breach in Norton Point Beach.

“We have the cable laying there, swinging back and forth,” Mr. Slade said. “God forbid we have another cable failure. We would have some serious problems.”One of three high-capacity electrical wires that carry power from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick failed September 17, causing a power outage for several hours. Engineers discovered a hole in the underwater cable about 45 feet from the Chappy shoreline.

The two remaining wires can handle the load at this time of year, when many summer residents have left Chappaquiddick. The only exception is the fire station. The station ran on generators for some time. Since, it’s been reconfigured temporarily to run on the available power supply.

To fix the failed cable, NSTAR plans to install two new conduits, at least 10 feet beneath the harbor floor. A specialized machine situated on land will bore a hole for the conduit under the harbor. Engineers will pull new electrical wires through one of the conduits, and use the other conduit for a spare, or for possible future expansion.

Town officials are working with Comcast and Verizon to see if those companies can join NSTAR in the project, to lay new cable TV and phone communication cables at the same time. That will require Comcast and Verizon to secure legal rights.

Underground wiresNSTAR officials also told selectmen they hope to accelerate another construction project, originally planned for next spring. That project would put all electrical transmission wires underground from the Chappy ferry landing to Litchfield Road. NSTAR wants to improve reliability by replacing above-ground poles with an underground conduit. Manholes would be installed level with the ground. Four transformers, described by engineers as about “three feet square,” would sit on concrete pads above the ground. Engineers agreed to locate the transformers and the conduit so it would not interfere with operations of the Chappy ferry, and would allow ferry owner Peter Wells to expand the slip and haul-out facilities on the Chappaquiddick side.

That project was not part of the emergency repairs authorized by selectmen, and it will go through the normal permitting process, beginning with hearings in November.

Other actionIn other action Monday, selectmen approved a merit raise for information technology manager Adam Darack; voted to continue the Community Development Block grant program which provides home improvements and child care for low and moderate income families; and agreed to seek a legal opinion about further subdividing the 67-acre Sweetened Water Farm subdivision.