NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – Investigators have used a variety of tools in an attempt to help uncover the cause of a mysterious explosion at Salty Brine State Beach with one notable exception: the network of state-owned video surveillance cameras designed to protect Narragansett Bay.
That’s because the camera that was used to watch over the beach and Port of Galilee – one of 48 cameras installed around Rhode Island waterways as of 2013 – no longer occupied its intended perch above the beach when the blast sent a Connecticut woman to the hospital July 11.
It was also missing the day before when two early-morning fires termed suspicious damaged three fishing boats as they sat docked in Galilee Harbor several hundred yards away.
What happened to the camera, which seemed ideally positioned to give state officials an eyewitness view of both incidents?
Less than a year after it was turned on, the camera was damaged by severe vibrations from the wind turbine stanchion on which it was attached and was taken down in February 2014.
Since then, although Galilee remains Rhode Island’s primary fishing port, state officials have not decided whether to replace the camera either on the wind turbine stanchion or nearby.
Attrition with the state’s surveillance cameras is not an isolated problem for Galilee.
Of the 48 cameras once installed in the state’s surveillance network, only 35, or 73 percent, are still working, according to Peter Gaynor, director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.
“There are cameras up and down the shipping channel that are subject to performance issues and this particular one had a siting issue that has not been resolved,” Gaynor said. “Typically they are near the water and so you have severe weather.”
In the case of Galilee, the fate of the surveillance camera is tied up with the fate of the wind turbine, which used to power the state-owned beach pavilion that houses showers, restrooms and the Salty’s Landing snack bar.
One year after the camera broke, the turbine itself, a 10 kilowatt model made by Bergey Windpower Co., was deactivated this February after it succumbed to an intense winter storm.
According to Larry Mouradjian, associate director for natural resources management at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the turbine is now the subject of disagreement between his agency and the manufacturer over whether the unit is under warranty.
“The tail piece came off,” Mouradjian said about the turbine. “We own it and in our opinion it is under warranty, but the manufacturer is in dispute with the installer. We are awaiting replacement parts.”
Until the future of the turbine is settled, Gaynor said officials won’t be able to make a decision on whether to put the camera back up in the same place or find a more protected spot.
Like many states, Rhode Island began installing a network of surveillance cameras around its waterways in 2006, when the federal government started awarding homeland security grants for port protection.
The Rhode Island system can be accessed by a number of agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Providence Police Department and Rhode Island State Police in addition to RIEMA and DEM.
The system is operated and maintained by Middletown-based company Vizsafe Inc. under a three-year, $341,000 contract that expires in May 2016, according to RIEMA spokesman Alex Ambrosius.
Of course, even if the Salty Brine camera was working, there’s no guarantee that it would have captured either the beach explosion or the origins of the fishing boat fires.
When it was working, the camera could be rotated by surveillance personnel 360 degrees and would pan and tilt to capture all ends of the beach, ocean and harbor. But it can only be trained on one spot at a time.
Typically, the camera was focused on the shipping channel and not the beach or docked boats, Gaynor said.
“Whether it would have been trained on that spot I can’t say – generally the cameras are for the waterways and ships coming up and down the bay,” Gaynor said. “You can point them inland but it is not helpful when you are trying to monitor them live.”
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