Harsh ocean conditions continue to present a challenge to the construction of the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm project. On the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 20, the mooring line connecting two large transport barges containing five deck platforms broke in choppy waters off of the west coast of the island, causing construction personnel to scramble to secure the displaced barge.
The transport barges containing the five decks were separated and drifting apart from each other in Block Island Sound. One barge containing two decks was spotted battling high seas off the southwesterly side of the island, while the barge carting three other decks was situated off the island’s coastline near the North Lighthouse.
“The barge with the decks broke its mooring line this morning, was quickly secured and is now being towed to another location by tug,” said Deepwater Wind spokesperson Meaghan Wims. “A tug nearby to the barge noticed the mooring break right away when it happened, around 6:30 a.m., and secured it within minutes. Other tugs also arrived to assist.”
Rough seas categorized as having “significant wave height” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were observed where the two barges were spotted.
“The barge is going to Quonset to repair the mooring line in preparation for installation of the first decks,” said Wims.
Eyewitness accounts described the situation.
Harbormaster Steve Land told The Block Island Times that the transport barge containing three deck platforms came close to “going aground” at Grace’s Cove. Land said that the barge was fighting rough surf and came within “a couple hundred yards” of the shoreline. Land noted that it was harsh ocean conditions and the wind was “cranking” at “a solid 30 knots.”
Land said that he first heard about the issue from the New Shoreham police dispatch. “When the police called me, the dispatcher said, ‘Steve, we just got a call that the Deepwater barge is going aground,’ and I didn’t believe her. I joked., I said, ‘Is that written in the book? I think you’re getting your leg pulled,” said Land. “And she goes, ‘No. It’s friggin’ for real, Steve.’ So, I went down there.”
Deciding to drive to Dory’s Cove, when Land arrived at the shoreline he witnessed the barge within close proximity to the beach with “one tugboat on it. The barge was tied portside.” The tugboat, which had a red topside, “was going in reverse trying to keep the barge off of the beach.”
Land said that while the red tugboat was trying to keep the barge off of the beach, a white tugboat was speeding to the scene “at full speed, wide open, to help him out. The red tugboat was losing ground. And the mooring was still attached. I assumed that it broke. The tugboats were snapping lines left and right, but they went portside and pushed the barge” in a northeast direction back out to sea.
Land’s first thought was that “people are going to get hurt. That was my main concern, but people who drive tugboats are professionals. They know what to do. They got it off. So, it was exciting, but it didn’t actually hit ground.”
“They had a bad day,” said Land. “No one got hurt, and that’s really the most important thing. Boats break free all of the time in the harbor. Half of our day is dealing with boats that break free.”
Block Island resident John Willis witnessed the incident first hand while standing on the shore at Grace’s Cove.
“At about 7 a.m. at Bethany’s Diner, a cab driver told the breakfast group that the barge had broke loose and was close to shore at Charlestown Beach,” said Willis. “They actually said it was on the beach, but that wasn’t exactly true. Three of us drove out to Grace’s Cove, and there it was, but being pushed by two tugs against heavy west winds and waves. The harbormaster Steve Land was already there.”
Willis said that it was hard to say how close the barge came to shore because it “was just before daylight. The top heavy ladened barge rolled heavily with its huge white mooring in tow as the tugs belched black smoke trying to hold it as far off the beach as possible. They held it off the inlet 300 or 400 yards until the winds and waves slowly subsided.”
“To think this was no big deal is ridiculous,” noted Willis. “Did we think it could capsize? Sure. Add this to the damaged tower removed to New Jersey and now the lie about a rate reduction and you wonder whether Deepwater should stay on dry land. Next question: when are they going to continue this project, during the approaching fall and winter Nor’easters?”
The 56-foot yellow deck components had been observed for the past several days sitting off of the coast on Block Island Sound. Deepwater Wind is in the process of completing the pile driving phase associated with the five steel jacket foundations that are positioned in approximately 90-feet of water.
The platform decks will then be welded to the top of each steel foundation and stand a total of 69-feet above the water line. The decks will serve as the base for the wind turbines, which will be erected during the next stage of the wind farm’s construction, scheduled for the summer of 2016.
“Foundation installation is progressing with all five jacket foundations secured in the water at the project site,” said Wims. “We are now working to complete driving of the final few (foundation) piles, and then we will be lifting and welding the deck sections onto the jacket foundations over the next several weeks.”
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