National Grid is planning on petitioning the town of New Shoreham for a 45 day extension for the cable installation at Town Beach due to drilling issues the project is experiencing on the mainland, The Block Island Times learned on Wednesday, April 13. The delay will not impact the overall schedule of the Block Island Wind Farm project, which is expected to go online in the fall.
The cable installation project originally had a May 15 end date, with an additional seven days of work allowed anytime between May 15 and June 15 if needed. According to National Grid representatives that The Block Island Times spoke to on Wednesday, a June 30 deadline will be asked for due to the unavoidable delays.
According to Shannon Baxevanis, the Manager of Stakeholder Relations, Complex Infrastructure Projects for National Grid, the company is planning on asking for the extension at the Town Council meeting on Wednesday, April 20.
“The horizontal drilling process at Scarborough Beach has encountered delays due to significant levels of compressive granite rock – bedrock,” said Baxavenis. She said that National Grid attempted several solutions, including getting approval to shorten the length of the cable path by 750 feet – from 3,000 feet to 2,250 feet – and changing out equipment, but the need to ask for the extension became apparent.
“We exhausted all the options at Scarborough Beach,” Baxevanis said. The company soon realized it needed to “come to the town for the extension to complete the tie-ins at Crescent Beach.” None of the issues for the extension request are Block Island-related.
When asked if the June 30 date would give the company enough time to complete the project, Project Manager Dave Campilii said that the date was chosen based on how long it had taken to do the drilling that’s been currently completed, and how much yet had to be done.
Horizontal drilling on the mainland started right at Jan. 1, as early as their permitting would allow, said Campilii. About half of the drilling had been completed by April 12 – 1,120 feet – in the three and-a-half months since it began. The delay on the mainland has impacted the dates when the cable can land on Block Island.
“It’s taking us much longer to complete the drill,” said Campilii.
When asked if he was concerned about the delay, Campilii said, “I think anytime you have a significant delay it’s a concern to the whole project team. It affects the communities we’re working in.”
The possible extension has also impacted the sequence in which the cables associated with the wind farm will be installed.
The cable from Scarborough Beach to the Fred Benson Town Beach – what Project Manager Dave Campilii called “the National Grid cable” – was expected to be laid first. The cable from Town Beach to the Wind Farm turbines – what Campilii called the “Deepwater Wind cable” – would be installed next. The Deepwater Wind cable will now be laid first. “We did move around the sequencing,” said Campilii. That cable will be completed by mid-May.
The extension, if granted, would put the deadline of the project past Memorial Day. Kathryn Cox-Arslan, the Director, Transmission Commercial Services for National Grid, said that the crews will not work for a five day period over Memorial Day Weekend – from Thursday, May 26 through Tuesday, May 31.
Baxevanis said that there have been extensive conversations with the town. “We’ve had meetings with the town and issued a letter describing the extension request. We are doing an additional outreach to the community and with the Town Council, to town government, tourism boards, businesses, and residents so that folks really understand the need for this extension and to minimize the impact.”
She also stated that it was National Grid’s “intention to do everything we can to keep access to the beach maintained, to increase safety measures and to make people more aware of what is going on down there.” Baxevanis said, during the month of May, there will not be much activity other than installing the cable, “with the full plan of minimizing the impact to the town, tourism, residents and to get feedback during the extension timeframe.”
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski told The Times that his company was “working closely with National Grid to keep this important project on-schedule. We want to extend our thanks to the residents of Block Island for their continuing patience and understanding as we make some necessary adjustments to the timeline and complete this work.”
First Warden Ken Lacoste said that he thought the Town Council “will have a whole lot to talk about” at the April 20 meeting. “It could cause a very serious delay,” said Lacoste. “It’s a big project, which ran into technical difficulties on the” mainland. “This is big league stuff that we’re dealing with. We’re going to treat it that way.”
Lacoste noted that in initial discussions with National Grid regarding the project, the Council stressed the importance of completing construction at the Town Beach before the summer season begins. “The Town Council is concerned about the implications it could have on the beach pavilion,” said Lacoste. “We need to see what National Grid has to say and discuss the town’s concerns” with them at the meeting.
Second Warden Norris Pike said that National Grid “needs to engineer a solution. I’m not happy about it.” Pike noted that Deepwater Wind told him that cable work should be completed by mid-June. “If they get it done then we should be okay. My biggest concern is that they don’t get it done by the July 4th weekend.”
Pike said the drilling speed has been increased from “about 30 to 50 feet a day to about 80 feet per day.”
“Construction delays are part of the program,” said Pike. “We’re going to have to notify people to keep their distance from the construction site at the beach pavilion. We’re going to have to adapt to make it work.”
Councilor Terry Mooney said that “any delay affecting the tourist season will be a disaster. Our expectation was that the project would be completed as promised pursuant to the contract. The potential ramifications of not being able to comply with the timing terms of the contract cast doubt as to the professional expertise of Deepwater and its partners. As it is often said it is time for this group to ‘walk the talk’ and convince Block Island that there is reason to believe that an entity and its affiliates, who have no experience in such a detailed engineering project, are capable of completing this project safely and on time without disrupting the financially critical tourist season.”
Councilor Chris Warfel said, “I don’t know the inner workings of National Grid, but many people associated with the project indicate that National Grid is a very compartmentalized company, and communication across interdisciplinary boundaries is not good.”
“The project appears to been born of certain local, state and national politicians, with the able assistance of a Wall Street Hedge fund, DE Shaw, who found willing pigeons in Rhode Island and basically plucked them clean for their own financial purposes,” said Warfel. “What did people expect?”
Councilor Mark Emmanuelle said, “It’s very unfortunate, but it is what it is. We all must remember that we’re not rewiring a summer cottage here. This project is on an international scale. We have to make the best out of it.”
Cassius Shuman contributed material to this report.
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