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Reality sinks in for project; Turbine shut down for foundation fix

The MWRA is scrambling to strengthen the soil holding up its brand-new power turbine – a green project paid for with federal stimulus money – after shutting down the Charlestown windmill when engineers found it sank about twice as much as they’d anticipated.

Massachusetts Water Resources Authority honchos and engineers met yesterday to figure out a fix for the $4.7 million wind turbine, which started turning in October, only to power down last month when crews discovered it had settled about 2 inches, agency officials said. Possible causes, they said, include soil conditions and vibrations from a sudden shutdown triggered by high winds.

“There’s no risk of it leaning over or falling,” MWRA Executive Director Fred Laskey told the Herald between meetings yesterday. ”It’s one of those things that happens in a project. It’s manageable, it’s safe, and the remedy will come quickly under the warranty.”

“The urgency is to get the turbine working again,” Laskey said. “We were making electricity like gangbusters through the fall. It was magnificent.”

Shoring up of the soil will start within the next couple of weeks and most likely will require injecting grout into the ground, Laskey said.

“Basically, they’re looking to put steroids into the foundation,” he said.

The foundation runs about 60 feet deep, he said, including about 20 feet of filled-in land.

The 364-foot-tall, 231-ton turbine stands next to the DeLauri Sewer Pump Station off Route 99. The MWRA sells the electricity it generates, and the proceeds are deducted from the power bill for the Deer Island sewage treatment plant.

Wilmington firm Lumus Construction built the turbine through its green-energy arm, Solaya Energy – the same company that built a pair of turbines on Deer Island and another on the Driftway in Scituate.

Only one other firm submitted a competing bid for the Charlestown turbine, MWRA officials said; that proposal was thrown out, they said, because the company did not want to front the money for the giant structure.

Officials at that company, Bond Brothers Construction of Everett, declined to comment, saying the firm bids on many projects and did not have an immediate recollection of the Charlestown turbine proposal.

Boston City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, whose district encompasses the turbine site, said neighborhood opposition to the windmill was minimal because the site is set back from nearby homes.

“Me, personally, I support the project,” he said, citing the cost savings to MWRA customers.