Severed Cable Cuts Off Outer Banks Islands During Height of Summer, Lawsuit Filed

Published On
Aug 1, 2017

In North Carolina, on July 27, PCL Civil Constructors working on the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge project, which spans 2.8 miles and is the only connection between Hatteras Island and Bodie Island, severed a three-phase, 115-kilovolt underground transmission line. According to a statement from Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative (CHEC), the contractor was erecting supports for the south side of the bridge and drove a steel casing through the cable.

New River Electrical Corp., Cloverdale, Va., which installed the original cable in 1995, arrived shortly after the incident to assist PCL and CHEC in assessing the damage. The EC also helped with restoration efforts.

The crews faced challenges as trenches flooded with sea water from the Oregon Inlet but ultimately analyzed the integrity of two other cables that serve the islands and determined they were compromised as well.

Infrastructure serving the Outer Banks islands is somewhat unique. The chain of islands off the coast of North Carolina juts from the main land, offering a singular narrow passage. That geography is one of the main tourist attractions, but it's problematic when disaster strikes because residents and vacationers staying farther south in the chain can be cut off from essential utilities and services.

During the outage, CHEC used a diesel generating plant in Buxton and Frisco—two villages on Hatteras Island—as well as nine generators, to provide temporary power. Though, the generating capacity was only able to meet minimum needs.

After determining the underground transmission repair would take too long, CHEC and partners immediately began erecting poles for an overhead transmission line solution.

Initially, CHEC said it could be up to two weeks to restore power to the islands.

As a result, with the power outage, Dare County issued a mandatory evacuation for Hatteras Island, and Hyde County issued a mandatory evacuation for non-residents staying on Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke Island can be accessed only by ferry.

According to Dorothy Hester, Dare County public information officer, about 50,000 to 60,000 residents and visitors were affected.

On Aug. 3, Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative announced power was restored, but businesses and residents are claiming a substantial loss in revenue, as the area relies heavily on income from tourism.

On July 31, the law firm of Wallace & Graham announced it was filing a class-action lawsuit against PCL.

"The complaint alleges that in order to win the contract, PCL claimed it could save $60 million or more by working under an accelerated schedule," the release states. "The lawsuit claims that in the process of trying to proceed with the work, the power lines were cut."

The day the lawsuit was filed, Gov. Roy Cooper spoke about the financial losses at a news conference.

"I do know we're talking hundreds of millions of dollars for our tourism on these islands every year," Cooper said.

In the news conference, Cooper didn't hesitate to place blame and said he hopes businesses and individuals who have been financially burdened from the outage can be reimbursed.

"Clearly, this was a company's fault," he said. "We should work hard to make sure people are made as whole as possible. We don't know what the legal landscape is at the moment."

About the Author

Timothy Johnson


Timothy Johnson is the former digital editor for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine.

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