National Grid asks Council for extension

Fri, 04/22/2016 - 11:15am

“We’re here to formally request an extension of the easement that is expiring on May 15 — extending it to June 30. This is a vital extension,” said National Grid liaison Kathryn Cox-Arslan at the New Shoreham Town Council’s meeting on Wednesday, April 20 at Town Hall.

After an hour and forty minutes of deliberations, that included members of the public weighing in on the subject, the Town Council voted to hold a special meeting on Monday, April 25 at 12 p.m. to make a decision on National Grid’s extension request.

The majority of the residents that spoke were in favor of the extension, with some requesting that the Town Council impose significant financial penalties if the project again goes beyond its deadline.

Cox-Arslan and seven representatives of National Grid convened with the Town Council and about 35 members of the public to request that the utility be granted a 45-day extension to complete its cable installation work on Block Island. National Grid’s construction was scheduled to be completed on May 15, but due to drilling challenges at Scarborough Beach, the company is asking the town’s officials if that deadline can be extended to June 30.

If the Town Council does not agree to the extension, National Grid stated that it could potentially set the project back a year. National Grid noted at the meeting that archeological artifacts are delaying the burying of the land cable and blue pipe waterline on Beach Avenue, but that cable installation work at the Town Beach is on schedule.  

If granted its 45-day extension, Cox-Arslan noted that National Grid, and its contractors, would not work on Memorial Day or on the weekends, but will try to help to “minimize the impact” to the island’s tourist season. National Grid engineer David Campilii provided a brief project overview, but said he couldn’t guarantee that the company would meet the June 30 deadline, although he was confident that cable installation work on the island would be completed by mid-June.

National Grid is charged with installing two cables on the project: its own 20-mile long sea2shore submarine cable transmission system that will link Block Island to the mainland, as well as Deepwater Wind’s 8.5 mile long cable that will connect the island to the wind farm. Campilii said that National Grid would begin installing Deepwater Wind’s cable next week.

“It will be a two-week process to get that (Deepwater Wind) cable in place,” said Campilii. “The Deepwater Wind cofferdam will be removed once the cable leaves the beach,” leaving only the National Grid sea2shore cofferdam at the beach.

Second Warden Norris Pike asked why National Grid couldn’t reverse the process and lay the cable from Block Island to the mainland. Campilii said that it is “more difficult to land (install) a submarine cable (on the beach) than it would be to install one from the beach (out to the water),” indicating that it would make the process more challenging for National Grid.

“There’s a high probability of damaging the cable that way,” noted Campilii.

Pike asked if National Grid would turn its attention to installing the 20-mile long sea2shore cable once the work is done at Scarborough Beach.

Campilii said that compressive quartz-bearing granite has been wearing out the “cutter heads” of National Grid’s drills and slowing the HDD (horizontal directional drilling) process at Scarborough Beach. He noted that the speed of the drilling at Scarborough had been increased, and that once drilling is completed National Grid would begin laying the sea2shore submarine cable.

During the discussion, a number of public citizens suggested and requested that National Grid work weekends to complete its work on schedule. Several people voiced their concerns that National Grid would not be able to meet its June 30 deadline. Some said that local businesses should be compensated for a perceived loss of revenue. Some approved of the extension, while a few were opposed to it.

Resident Fred Leeder said that he thought the delay in the project was due to Narragansett’s version of the Block Island factor. “I think they (National Grid) come to us in good faith. They’re making an effort,” said Leeder. “But it is a short season, and we need to get up and running as soon as we can.”

Island realtor Connie Finn said she was not in favor of granting the extension to National Grid. She noted that people are paying a lot of money to visit the island. “We’re telling those people that they’re going to have to put up with this,” she said. “This is April 20, and you’re telling us a project scheduled to be completed on May 15 is not going to be done until June 30. And you can’t guarantee that the project will be finished by June 30.”

“My business will be affected, but I’m in favor of the extension,” said Leeder. “To set the record straight, people are in favor who will be affected business-wise.”

Molly O’Neill also stressed concerns for the potential impact to the island’s businesses, and said “there are very few business owners in this room.”

Resident Sven Risom said he supported National Grid’s 45-day extension and suggested that the company work on weekends. He also noted that a “penalty clause for delays” be included in National Grid’s easement agreement with the town.

Electric Utilities Task Group Chair Barbara MacMullan said that it was “important that the project gets completed this year.” MacMullan agreed with Risom that the town should include a “penalty clause” in its agreement with National Grid.

Bill Penn, Block Island Resident’s Association (BIRA) President, and also a member of the EUTG, said that BIRA “unanimously supports the (45 day) extension.” Block Island Power Company co-owner Cliff McGinnes, Sr. said that he supports the extension, but would like National Grid to work on weekends.

Resident and business owner, John Cullen, expressed concerns that National Grid’s extension might impact business on Block Island and said that the sight of a crane on the beach could deter people from venturing to the island during the tourist season. Cullen also asked the Town Council if the pavilion at the Town Beach would be open during construction.

In response, Town Manager Nancy Dodge said that “the pavilion will be open and operational.” She also said that the Town Council is aware of the ramifications of the project running past its original deadline.

Campilii said that National Grid would be open to working on the weekends and that that could speed up the timetable for the tie-in (connection) of the cable at the Town Beach. “The submarine cable should be arriving in mid-June,” said Campilii. “If weekend work is palatable to the town it could shave days off the schedule.”

Bill McCombe asked the Town Council what the next step in the process would be regarding National Grid’s request for an extension.

“We will talk amongst ourselves and come to a conclusion,” said Pike. “I think we’ve already come to our conclusion that this is a necessary step.”

“We all have to suffer through some pain with this project,” added Pike. “No one is going to go out of business because this project is a month late. From what I understand National Grid is fairly confident that by the middle of June they’ll be tied in. We need to move forward and be fair and reasonable. We’re the benefactors of all of this.”

“The reason we’re here tonight is because the Town Council needed to hear feedback from the community in terms of their feeling about it,” said First Warden Ken Lacoste. “The Council has to weigh the factors” in making its decision regarding the extension.