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Bridge Project Error Leads to Massive Blackout

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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Two islands in North Carolina’s Outer Banks were left without power Thursday (July 27), and many residents may not see their electricity restored for weeks—all due to a mistake on a bridge construction project.

Crews working on building the new Herbert C. Bonner Bridge drove a steel casing into the three underground transmission cables bringing power to Hattteras and Ocracoke Islands, damaging two of the three, according to the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative. More than 7,600 homes and businesses were affected, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

A CHEC spokesperson told the Charlotte Observer that the undergound cables had been marked "in their work plans," referring to the crew from bridge contractor PCL Construction. CHEC's Laura Ertle told the newspaper it was a surprise there were no injuries as a result of the incident. “There could have been potentially loss of life," Ertle said. "That’s 115 kilovolts."

Power was partially restored by Monday (July 31) with the help of emergency generators, according to CHEC. The company said crews were working simultaneously on two solutions: splicing the second damaged cable underground (as the first was already spliced), and building a new overhead transmission line. In the meantime, residents are being asked to conserve power.

Tourist Evacuation

According to local reports, more than 50,000 tourists left the islands Friday and Saturday after a mandatory evacuation was called for nonresidents. Fewer than 10,000 residents remain on the two islands.

On Friday, PCL issued a statement reading: “PCL is actively working with NCDOT and Cape Hatteras Electric to determine the exact cause of the power outage south of the Bonner Bridge. At this time, our primary concern is to ensure that we are doing everything we can to assist in restoring power as quickly as possible.”

Saturday, PCL posted on its Twitter account that “there are two excavators, two vacuum trucks and a loader supporting the repair operation. The damage is estimated to be approximately 9 feet below ground level and a trench box has been installed to support the excavation.”

The utility predicts a full, permanent solution won’t be in place for one to two weeks. Dare County has not issued any prediction as to when the tourist evacuation might be lifted.

About the Bridge Project

Construction on the Bonner Bridge Replacement Project began in March 2016. The design-build contract was granted to PCL in 2011, with HDR Engineering Inc. of the Carolinas serving as lead design firm. The job, including roadways leading up to the new bridge, is set to cost $246 million.

The old Bonner Bridge was built in 1963, with a design life of about 30 years. As early as 1989, the bridge was eyed for replacement, but environmental reviews and lawsuits brought by environmental groups concerned about the nearby Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge delayed the project by decades.

In December 2013, the bridge was closed temporarily when areas of the support structure were found to have been eroded by sand. It was reopened less than two weeks later, when the structure had been shored up.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Construction; Contractors; Safety

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