The top executive at the Water and Power Authority gave a partial explanation for the week-long series of rolling blackouts that affected St. John and portions of St. Thomas. WAPA Chief Executive Officer Andrew Smith told members of the utility’s governing board he would have a fuller explanation by Monday.
Smith’s initial assessment was delivered Thursday during the regularly scheduled board meeting. Thousands of customers on St. John and eastern St. Thomas experienced a week’s worth of two-hour scheduled power outages between Sept. 16 and Sept. 23.
Temporary service outages were ordered after construction work along a St. Thomas roadway damaged a power cable housed inside an electrical duct bank. The WAPA chief told the board the particular section of underground housing was close to 50 years old. “The cable that was punctured is a primary cable that is part of Feeder 13 which delivers power from the Randolph Harley Power Plant to the Tutu Substation,” said a WAPA statement issued Sept. 16.
“This particular section of the line was installed in the 1970s,” Smith said. He added that the area repair crews were dispatched to was hard to access and inundated with sludge.
To locate the problem, crews sectioned out the damaged portion of cable, but replacing it was a time-consuming task performed in a confined space by a small team of workers. Excessive daytime temperatures increased the hazards around the workspace, with support crews standing above ground checking to make sure no heat-related ailments cropped up.
“It was 24-7; crews were getting by on a handful of sleep,” Smith said.
WAPA Board Chairman Kyle Fleming said he’s looking forward to hearing more at a post-mortem meeting scheduled for Monday. WAPA Safety Director Josh Jones said he was looking forward to having “a full, robust discussion about accountability.”
But the safety director said considering there were utility teams working with three sets of contractors who had never worked together before, the repairs were completed without any injuries.
“This was probably the longest-duration outage we’ve had over the last six years,” Jones said.