Work begins on Chappy electrical conduit do-over

Tunnel-drilling crews returned to Edgartown Harbor Monday to begin replacing four conduits that now run under the channel that separates Chappaquiddick from Edgartown. Three of the four conduits designed to carry electric transmission lines to Chappaquiddick failed shortly after they were installed last fall.

A contractor working for NSTAR, the public utility that distributes electricity to Martha’s Vineyard, drilled four conduits under the harbor floor from the Edgartown shore to Chappaquiddick last fall. The conduits were to replace a submarine cable that failed in September, causing a power outage on Chappy.

The main power cable was installed through the first conduit as planned, and is carrying power to Chappaquiddick. The other three conduits, intended as backups and spares, failed soon after they were installed.

“Upon inspection, it was determined there were structural problems with the new conduits,” NSTAR spokesman Mike Durand said. “The exact cause is still under investigation.”

NSTAR is concerned that the main cable could fail at some point. “We decided to replace all four conduits to eliminate the possibility of this happening,” Mr. Durand said. Any extra costs for the project will be calculated after the investigation is complete.

The town is working to help cable and telephone companies come to an agreement with NSTAR to use the spare conduits, but at least one Chappy resident is unhappy with the progress. There is no cable television service to Chappy, a situation many residents of the small eastern island find intolerable.

“The selectmen should sign permits for NSTAR’s second tunneling only with the assurance that NSTAR will provide to Comcast a conduit for broadband cable for a reasonable fee,” Roger Becker wrote in a letter to The Times.

Town administrator Pam Dolby said the legal issues are complex among the large companies.

“The selectmen’s office has not stopped pursuing cable on Chappy,” she said. “I don’t want people to think we’re giving up. We’re doing everything we can possibly do.”

“We continue to evaluate the feasibility of providing service to Chappaquiddick,” Comcast spokesman Marc Goodman said Wednesday. He would not comment specifically on the possibility of using the under-harbor conduits owned by NSTAR.

The work means a section of Dock Street will close to vehicle traffic, as it was for the original project. Edgartown police said they have planned for at least three weeks of disruption. Town officials said the project could stretch into April.

Traffic coming off the Chappy ferry on the Edgartown side will travel up Daggett Street, normally one-way onto the ferry. A police officer will help direct traffic at the top of Daggett Street from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm every day.