April 05, 2020

Snapped power poles raise maintenance suspicions

COLUMBIA — The Army National Guard continued work on Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.’s main transmission line to Washington County yesterday amid suspicions by some locals that better maintenance could have prevented last week’s catastrophic 8-mile break.

More than 100 cedar poles, which made up 52 H-frame line supports in an 8-mile stretch, snapped during last week’s ice storm. The damage stretched across blueberry barrens from Deblois to Columbia, breaking the vital connection between Washington County and Bangor Hydro facilities in Veazie. Before the break, the 115,000-volt line delivered up to 20 megawatts of electricty to Washington County. That is peak demand, according to Bangor Hydro spokesman Bill Cohen.

Repair of the line is expected to cost $1.5 million and take four to six weeks, Cohen said. The cable isn’t going to be manufactured until the end of January.

Cohen said any system as old as the Washington County transmission line is going to have some rot, but inspection of the broken poles by Bangor Hydro engineers indicates that dry rot had nothing to do with the incident. The line is inspected twice a year and the last inspection was in December, he said.

Addison Selectman David Ouellette and Columbia Falls resident Bernard Ward are among those who question the structural integrity of the poles. Yesterday, they drove through a 2-mile stretch of barrens, stopping to examine stumps and pieces of wood debris that were left after the National Guard cleared the area and took the wood to a local landfill.

Oullette and Ward are not the only ones with suspicions. Pieces of the poles have been circulating in western Washington County for several days. Some are in rough shape with numerous woodpecker holes and “punky” interiors.

A pile of discarded poles at Pleasant River Solid Waste Transfer Station, however, painted another picture. With few exceptions, the poles there were unmarked and strong. The interiors had no signs of rot.

Station director Leon Yeaton said 12 to 15 trucks from the National Guard rolled into the station all yesterday afternoon, depositing poles, cables and transformers as part of the cleanup effort.

Yeaton said Calvin Preston, the supervisor of Washington County’s unorganized territories, asked Pleasant River to act as a disposal site and said the cost would be covered by federal emergency funds.

Bangor Hydro’s Cohen said the poles are all western ridge cedar and were put in place during the mid-1950s. When western ridge cedar rots, it does so from the middle and works its way out, he said. During an inspection five years ago, engineers bored into the poles. When dry rot was found in one pole, the crews put in studs, lashing them to the pole in question, he said.

Cohen said an engineer with the company’s transmission and distribution division has videos and still pictures of the first series of H-frames that fell during the storm. There is no dry rot in any of those structures, he said.

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