B.I. Wind Farm upgrades safety oversight

CRMC monitoring the situation
Sun, 10/04/2015 - 8:45pm

Construction of the Deepwater Wind Block Island Wind Farm project is being critiqued and closely scrutinized by state officials after the group charged with monitoring the offshore pilot wind farm project questioned equipment reliability and worker safety.

ABS Group, the independent Certified Verification Agent (CVA) approved by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) during Deepwater Wind’s permitting process for oversight of the 30-megawatt offshore wind farm project, published a safety report on Sept. 22 citing concerns over the installation process associated with the steel jacket foundations and the equipment that’s been utilized during construction. This is the second safety report issued by ABS Group, which has raised red flags regarding offshore construction of the wind farm project located three miles off the southeast coast of Block Island.

Laura Dwyer, spokesperson for the CRMC told The Block Island Times that, “The executive director is in regular, constant contact with ABS and Deepwater. At any time, if the CRMC determines that the project is no longer in compliance with the assent because of these issues, the CRMC can halt work to re-evaluate the project.”

The first ABS report, published on Aug. 25 by Theodore Hofbauer, Director, Power Sector, for the ABS Group, detailing the period from July 19 through Aug. 24, cited several health and safety issues that occurred during the first month of construction of the wind farm project.

In response to that report, Deepwater Wind spokesperson Meaghan Wims told The Block Island Times that Deepwater Wind agreed with several recommendations made by the CRMC’s engineering advisor to improve safety procedures and assigned more fulltime dedicated safety personnel to the project.

The latest safety concerns center around a Sept. 22 ABS Group report that was issued by Hofbauer and elicited CRMC vice chairman Paul Lemont to demand better oversight at a meeting between the CRMC, ABS Group and Deepwater Wind officials.

When reached for comment on Tuesday, Sept. 29, regarding that report, Hofbauer told The Times via email that, “as the CRMC representative inspection company, we would defer all comments to the CRMC.”

CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate informed The Times on Sept. 29 that, “The whole reason that we put the CVA process in place is to make sure that we had eyes 24/7 on the project. We have complete oversight on the project. We don’t rely on Deepwater Wind for oversight. That’s why we have the ABS Group monitoring the situation.”

In response to concerns related to the Sept. 22 ABS report, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said, “We continue to work closely with the CRMC and ABS to ensure that the project meets the highest safety and construction standards, and we remain confident in the project’s safe and steady progress.”

In the Sept. 22 report, ABS cited several concerns regarding the installation of the five steel jacket foundations. These included “fulltime safety representation during the installation process to allow for identification and timely resolution of issues;” “safety stand-down to review current practices, safety concerns, personnel concerns, process failures and retraining as required;” and “review of crane capabilities based upon current experience gained from first five weeks and engineering review of rigging for operations and pile driving to minimize safety hazard to personnel.”

According to the report, there are now fulltime safety representatives on the Weeks cranes, and the lift-boat Robert now has full-time safety representatives with increased safety sweeps and hazard hunts. The crane capabilities issue has been addressed by the addition of the L/B Robert to the project.

The report listed safety recommendations, including “establishing a safety commission to meet regularly and report on progress safety system and resolution of issues;” “establish a formal process to identify root cause of near misses/issues to prevent recurrence;” and “verification of Weeks/Marine Safety Management System for compliance with their written processes and procedures.” All three of these were identified as having been completed “according to DWBI” — Deepwater Wind Block Island. But each item had yet “to be confirmed by ABS.”

The report also noted several issues with welding procedures, including weld maps, pre-heat temperatures not being measured, voltmeters not working and the lack of procedures and drawings at the work site. 

“The CRMC continues to work with both the CVA and Deepwater to ensure these safety issues are being addressed,” said Dwyer. “The information conveyed to the CRMC by ABS, to date, in accordance with the process outlined in the Ocean SAMP, has been very informative. Of course the CRMC would be concerned with any safety issues related to this project, and we will continue to monitor the situation through the CVA, which is why we keep an open dialogue with both ABS and Deepwater.”

Grover Fugate noted that CRMC officials will be meeting with representatives of Deepwater Wind and the ABS Group some time after Columbus Day regarding the monitoring of the wind farm’s construction safety issues.

“The safety issues that were brought up have been implemented,” said Fugate. “We’re continuing to monitor the situation.”

Meanwhile, Deepwater Wind is monitoring hurricane Joaquin, the third hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic Ocean season, which meteorologists are predicting may impact the east coast over the weekend.

“The weather conditions offshore are deteriorating and we’re watching the approaching storm Joaquin closely,” said Grybowski. “Our equipment and foundations are secure, and the construction vessels will continue to shelter in Coast Guard-designated areas until the weather improves.”

It was disclosed by wind farm fishery liaison Elizabeth Marchetti at a meeting of Deewater Wind officials and local fishermen in Point Judith on Wednesday, Sept. 23 that pile driving of the foundations will be going on for the next month. Aileen Kenney, vice president of permitting and environmental affiars for Deepwater Wind, said that she was confident pile driving would be completed by Oct. 31. 

Meaghan Wims told The Times that “our deadline to complete pile driving is October 31, and we remain on track with that work. We built in plenty of flexibility in our construction schedule to account for delays such as bad weather.”