Work at the Mohawk Harbor site is visibly moving forward, but there’s a whole other development happening at the same time underground.
Ten to 12 feet under the property are thousands of feet of cables running the length of the 60-acre site. The network of cables will provide power to all of the buildings in the riverside project.
Daily Gazette photographer Marc Schultz and I went underground to take a look at the work National Grid has been doing for the last five months.
The manhole we went into on a sunny, hot Tuesday morning is next to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel now being built. The hole, like most of them on site, is six feet by 12 feet.
We were warned by National Grid that the space is small, smaller than a typical elevator. Schultz and I wore a harness that workers hooked a rope to in case we had to be pulled out in an emergency.
Steve Gerke, National Grid underground supervisor, went down the ladder into the hole first, followed by myself and then Schultz.
The hole is lit by the sun and the bottom is filled with water due to the proximity to the Mohawk River.
“When you’re working in a manhole, everything is energized,” Gerke said. That’s why workers are required to wear protective clothing.
The hole, made of concrete, has six small holes on either end, about the size of my fist, to feed the cables through. The cables lie on brackets secured on both sides of the wall.
Six National Grid workers spend 10 hours a day working in 40 manholes to create the underground utility system.
“We have multiple manholes through the complex running from a substation on Front Street, where the power comes from,” said Mickey Pomakoy, National Grid underground manager for the Northeast region. “In the end we have two feeders coming out of the substation feeding the complex.”
Phase one, which started in March, will be done by the end of the month. That will provide power to the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor and its adjacent 163-room hotel still under construction.
The casino is expected to open in February or March and the hotel in July or August.
The 124-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel already has power to the building. The hotel will be done and opened in October.
The second phase of the project includes additional feeders for reliability purposes, Pomakoy said. He said the power to the site will also provide increased reliability for parts of Schenectady and Scotia.
When the project is complete there will be a total of 16,000 feet of cables, Gerke said.
That’s 16,000 feet of three cables together, he said. The longest pull of cable is about 450 feet underground, he added.
Whenever there is a power outage at Mohawk Harbor in the future, National Grid workers would have to pinpoint the problem spot and go underground to repair it.
Pomakoy said underground work is more challenging than above ground.
“Given the aesthetics and available space above ground the developer decided to go underground,” he said. “There is a lot involved with underground work. And you can’t see what you’re doing.”
Pomakoy said the underground work at Mohawk Harbor off Erie Boulevard is the largest project he has seen in the last 28 years since he’s been on the job.
“The size is a nightmare based on logistics,” he said. “My crews have done outstanding work and worked straight through with little difficulties.”
Pomakoy said there has been one injury on the site but declined to discuss specifics.
In addition to power, gas for the buildings on site is also underground.
Brett Morey, supervisor of Schenectady gas, said the site has six-inch gas mains that run 1,500 feet from one end of the property to the other.
There is a gas main and separate gas service for each building, he said.
“They are six-inch gas mains and 45 pounds of pressure,” he said. “There is a two-inch gas service for the Marriott, a four-inch for the casino and another four-inch service for the second hotel. Apartments will be done in the future, then office and retail.”
National Grid workers at the company’s training facility on Seneca Street on Tuesday said the work is “nasty, smelly, wet and scary.”
Schultz and I were required to get Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training to go underground at Mohawk Harbor.
The training facility at 300 Seneca Street, off Erie Boulevard by the railroad tracks, includes above ground and underground training for National Grid workers.
Before the training National Grid told me in an email, “If you are claustrophobic in any way, be forewarned that this is a tight space. It’s smaller than a typical elevator and only three people will be allowed at a time.”
The training was close to two hours.
We had to come prepared with steel toe boots, which I don’t own. I had to borrow a pair a size too big from Schultz. Needless to say, I looked like a clown.
National Grid provided us with vests, goggles and hard hats. Workers also sometimes have to wear fire resistant (FR) clothing and electrical gloves.
Chris Doyle, senior supervisor of operations, taught us how to put the harness on, how to go down the ladder into the hole and what you might experience underground.
He continued to tell us how terrifying it is when a car accidentally drives over a hole a worker is in, which happens quite often, hence the many traffic cones.
“The cones are for our protection,” Doyle said. “You can hear cones run over by a car so workers can brace themselves or run away.”
The harness is required to go underground so a worker on the ground could pull you up in case of an emergency.
The harness goes around your arms and legs and is secured in front with Velcro. It has several loops to hook a rope in case you have to be pulled out.
“We always have someone stationed on top; they cannot go down whatsoever,” Doyle said.
It took about 20 minutes to adjust my harness because apparently I’m too small. I guess there are no petite female National Grid workers?
Doyle used a meter to test the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels underground before lowering us into the hole.
“If the oxygen is low you would collapse immediately,” he said.
We then practiced going up and down the ladder and experienced what conditions would be like underground in a confined space.
After all of that training, Schultz and I were underground at Mohawk Harbor for about five minutes. Workers could be underground all day.
Schultz and I were joined by three members of Ecast Productions, a Boston-based film company working with National Grid to make videos of some of the grid’s projects to highlight work across the state.
The company also went underground and did interviews with Galesi Group CEO David Buicko, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy and Capital Region Chamber CEO Mark Eagan.
The video is expected to be posted on National Grid’s website sometime in September.
Katie Newcombe, senior economic developer at National Grid, said the company has grant funding for projects across upstate, including for infrastructure and brownfield development.
The Mohawk Harbor site received a little more than $1 million from National Grid for brownfield, streetscape and electrical infrastructure work, she said.
“We’re trying to create healthy, resilient and vibrant communities where we live and work,” she said. “This is one example in upstate New York.”
The Mohawk Harbor site will include high-tech streetlights as part of Schenectady’s push to be a “smart city.” The lights would have LED bulbs along with the option for security cameras, Wi-Fi and other fiber optics.
The Marriott hotel on the northern end of the site will be the first to be done in October, followed by the casino in February or March.
The 208-unit apartment building, called the Riverhouse Apartments, is expected to be done by June, followed by the casino’s 163-room hotel.
Galesi is also gearing up to erect office and retail buildings and a 15-unit townhouse building. The manmade harbor is already carved out and about 50 boat slips will be added. The site will also have biking and walking paths.