By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
As summer approaches on Block Island, the undersea electric cables from the nearby offshore wind facility will have a presence at one of New Shoreham’s most popular beaches.
The power line from the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm reaches shore at Fred Benson Town Beach and leaves the island for Narragansett at Crescent Beach to the north. But keeping portions of the cable buried at Crescent Beach has been a struggle.
The problem has persisted since 2016. National Grid and Ørsted, formally Deepwater Wind, blame subsurface bedrock and boulders from preventing the cables from staying buried at a mandated depth of 4-6 feet into the seafloor. They also said shifting sand has made them prone to exposure. Hard plastic sleeves were installed in 2017 to cover portions of the cables. National Grid and Ørsted are now working with the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to fix the problem for good.
At a May 14 meeting, the energy companies told CRMC that a process known as directional drilling will be needed to install a new cable at a lower depth. Manhole covers will also be added. Monthly progress reports must be submitted to CRMC, but the project isn’t expected to be completed until 2021.
“Accretion has occurred at both cable locations, so that provides a bit of a buffer, but all parties are still moving forward with the permanent solution,” CRMC spokeswoman Laura Dwyer said.
National Grid initially hoped to have the problem solved this spring, but after survey work in December and January, it recognized that the project would require more time and engineering.
The Block Island Times has reported that some residents and members of the Town Council are frustrated with the slow pace of work and the temporary remedies.
“Since early last year, the town of New Shoreham has supported, if not argued its absolute necessity, the lowering or relocation of the National Grid and Ørsted subsea cables off Crescent Beach,” New Shoreham town manager Edward Roberge told ecoRI News.
Until then, buoys, some of them lighted, will mark a no-anchor zone to warn boaters of the electrical cables below. The buoys are scheduled to be installed mid-June and removed in the offseason.
The buoys were first deployed last May by National Grid, when its sea-to-shore transmission cable was exposed some 200 feet off Town Beach. Three months later, in August, swimmers discovered the 34,500-volt cable some 25 feet offshore in shallow water at Crescent Beach.
National Grid maintains that boaters and swimmers aren’t at the risk of harm, the only concern is damage to the “armored” transmission lines.
“The area remains safe for swimming and other water-related activities,” said Ted Kresse, spokesman for National Grid.