A 70-foot transmission tower fell into the Mohawk River near Lock 10 and knocked out power for 20,000 customers in the Amsterdam area early Saturday morning.
The damage from Tropical Storm Irene has been continuing for the hamlet of Cranesville, where land near a National Grid substation has gradually eroded since an abutment gave way and created a new river channel along Route 5S, downstream from Lock 10. In recent days the Mohawk’s flow was increased by the runoff of Tropical Storm Lee, said National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella.
“The river basically rerouted itself around the abutment,” he said.
The strength of this new flow grew to the point where Stella conceded that the utility was caught off guard by the events of Saturday morning. “We didn’t really see it coming.”
Stella said the transmission tower slipped into the water and submerged after 1 a.m. Workers began rerouting power to most customers, with only about 300 in the area of Cranesville still without power Saturday afternoon. He said that a best-case scenario would see power restored today, but acknowledged that they had a lot of work ahead of them.
The downed tower also caused Route 5 to be shut down between Truax and Cranes Hollow roads because of wires across the road. In addition, Amtrak’s Empire Service between Niagara Falls and Albany for Sunday.
The big challenge ahead for National Grid is to create a dam that would stretch over 100 feet across the new channel so that workers could reach the downed tower. Dump trucks pulled into the site to unload dirt and rocks to create the dam Saturday afternoon. Stella said he hoped that could be completed Saturday night. Once they reach the wires, Stella said workers will attach them to the nearby substation or another tower.
Workers were also watching the towers that were attached to the downed structure, as they thought there was a chance others could be pulled down too. “That’s our immediate concern,” he said. Crews were trying to reduce stress on the remaining lines.
Even though the substation along Route 5S at this location was submerged during Irene, none of the transmission towers had been pulled into the water until the erosion began. Stella said at least 10 feet of land had been swept into the new channel in about a day. “If the waters go down it won’t [keep eroding],” he said. “That’s the hope.”
But National Grid is confident about the safety of the formerly submerged substation, which will be brought at least partially back online so it can serve as a backup supply in case outages pop up in other areas.
Nearby at Lock 9, National Grid crews are dealing with another energy crisis, as the damage there led them to shut off a gas line that supplies about 340 residents of Rotterdam Junction. Stella said these people have been without gas since Thursday night and there is no definite date for restoration.
“We’re trying to work on a temporary solution for them, but they’re not going to have gas until at least early next week,” Stella said.
National Grid has set up a temporary gas supply at the firehouse in Rotterdam Junction, where people are able to take warm showers.