Down and dirty with the traffic and noise on Shore Road

BOB PAPPAS PHOTO | A drill bit head capable of cutting through rocks that might be encountered as LIPA workers open a passage in the seabed between the Island and Southold.

Eleven Shelter Island students Friday got an on-site lesson in what it takes to replace a damaged cable running between here and Southold to ensure sufficient electrical power during the peak summer season.

The original cable was damaged during Superstorm Sandy, leaving the Island at risk for a blackout or rolling brownouts this summer when the population expands to as many as 8,000 people.

“It’s cool and confusing,” student Riley Willumsen said.

That  summed up the consensus.

The students were selected by teacher Jack Reardon because of their interests in science and engineering.

Long Island Power Authority workers have been working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, rain or shine, for about two weeks. And that’s  just preparing the materials they will use when they begin drilling on the $9 million project. They’ve been welding 48-inch steel pipes that will go about 20 feet below the seabed.

When they begin drilling and reach the necessary depth, the pipes will be directed straight across without weaving up and down and only turning to the left as the pipe nears the Southold side where it will come up at Highland View and Bayshore Road. It’s there that conduits running through the piping will be connected to a Southold transformer. If rocks are encountered, drills will have to be pulled back and then reinserted, perhaps with a new cutting head, and redirected so they can go straight through, according to project engineer John Savio.

There will be four passes through to gradually expand the center where the conduits will go.

The new cables will lie east of existing cables, but still must stay within a narrow easement the state grants to LIPA. During the 4,400 foot-long trip, drill heads will be pushing on a series of eight-inch rods to bring them through the casing. A peanut butter-like substance, bentonite clay, will be pumped into the center of the tubing and expand when wet, absorbing  several times its own weight in water. It’s a substance used in drilling operations to clean out silt and other substances that would otherwise become a threat to the electrical cables going through the casings.

A recycler will be used to remove the bentonite and debris and the tubing will be filled with trucked-in fresh water to keep the conduits from rising and rubbing against the casing. Ultimately, a pulley will pull all three conduits through to the other site.
Workers use fiber optic navigation to steer as they drill across the seabed, field superintendent Bill Softye said.

But how does it make that left hand turn at the end just before coming up in Southold? We thought you’d never ask: The pipe bends and the tracking allows for the workers to direct it, Mr. Softye said. That’s not new technology, he added. Around the 1900s, people were known to illegally tap into oil reserves on a neighbor’s property by drilling down and then going to the side underground.

Just how long the almost one-mile drilling will take depends on what rocks are be found during the drilling, Mr. Savio said.

The damaged cable is about 40 years old. But with the new installation, an extra cable will be added so  if there’s any problem going forward or a need for more power here, there a backup will be in place, he said.

There are no LIPA generators on Shelter Island necessitating that all electrical power comes through cables from both the North and South forks.

The cost for the project, as for all capital projects, comes from ratepayers, according to Mr. Savio.

The rig on Shelter Island is just east of the Sunset Beach Hotel, but still the sound of the drilling is going to carry on both sides of the water. Residents have been warned and the necessity of the project has been emphasized.

Local officials had hoped the LIPA project would get under way earlier and be finished prior to Memorial Day. No one wants to estimate when the project will finish, but the initial estimate of two months means it’s unlikely to be done until sometime in July, under the best of circumstances.