Southern Outer Banks back on line after outage

Electric coop calls incident an "unfortunate accident"

The first exposed underground transmission cable, suspended by a white rope, was spliced and repaired near Bonner Bridge. (Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative)

RALEIGH — The southern Outer Banks reopened for business this weekend, eight days after a construction crew working on the new Bonner Bridge accidentally cut power to Hatteras and Okracoke islands.

“All things given, we were very fortunate that we were able to get a quick fix,” said Laura Ertle, director of public relations and marketing for Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative (CHEC). “I mean, eight days — some argue that’s not a quick fix, but given the circumstance, we worked as quickly as we could.”

Eight days proved to not be nearly quick enough for many. Several vacationers had their week-long trips to the Outer Banks cut short due to the outage, which happened early July 27, while others missed out altogether as the first week of August was wiped out during the popular vacation destination busiest time of the year.

“This is a hard event for people to really understand,” Ertle said. “The weather was beautiful, the road was open and it’s the peak of season here. So the island was extremely crowded, the businesses have been doing wonderful this year. It was a hard event to understand. So we understand the frustrations that happened.”

Among those frustrated is state Rep. Beverly Boswell (R-Dare), who last week took aim at the N.C. Department of Transportation, CHEC and PCL Construction.

“Everybody had a hand in this — everybody,” Boswell said.

Ertle said the accident that led to the outage was not caused by poor planning but rather an unintentional event in which workers were placing a large casing to the side for future use and consequently severed two primary cables.

“When they drove it into the ground, it was kind of like they were sticking a shovel in the ground to get it out of the way for a second,” Ertle said, saying the casing wasn’t placed near where the bridge construction was occurring.

Fortunately, CHEC had splicing material on hand at its Buxton warehouse, allowing them to splice one of two damaged cables. But the crews were unable to remove enough water from the trench to splice the second severed cable, leading to CHEC relying solely on the overhead cables it had already started preparing as a contingency plan.

“It proved to be too challenging, so we have completely abandoned the underground cables,” Ertle said. “So the new overhead transmission line, that will stay standing until the completion of the new Bonner Bridge, which we have plans to attach to.

“Of course, those plans were in place before all this happened,” she added. “Once we do that, that new cable will come off the bridge and meet the existing overhead line like it was supposed to.”

Overhead cables are, Ertle confirmed, more susceptible to damage from hurricanes, but also “a lot easier to fix.”

Meanwhile, businesses and vacationers who were impacted by the outage can fill out a PCL Construction claim questionnaire at outerbanks.pcl.com describing the loss sustained by the accident.

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