Lawsuit says anchor caused $30M in damage to NY power cable

A utility operator has sued a Long Island marine transportation company for more than $30 million, claiming one of the firm’s tugs and oil barges damaged a power cable when they anchored in Long Island Sound.

The lawsuit said the damage was caused by Bouchard Transportation Co.’s locked-together vessels Ellen S. Bouchard and barge B. No. 280 at the entrance to Hempstead Harbor.

The admiralty claim was filed Jan. 31 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against Melville-based Bouchard. New York Power Authority (NYPA), which owns and operates the 693-megawatt Y-49 Long Island Sound transmission cable under contract to the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), estimated the damage at more than $30 million.

“The costs associated with the cleanup of the leaked fluid and the repair of the cable are substantial and a direct result of Bouchard’s negligence,” NYPA said in a statement. “The existence of the cable is marked on all relevant nautical navigation charts, warning mariners to use extreme caution when operating in the area.”

The lawsuit notes that nautical charts mark the area with the designation “Cable Area.” It adds that “the location of the Y-49 cable system was and is well known to all mariners or other users of the Long Island Sound.”

The authority said it has hired an environmental firm, and divers were seeking to locate and seal the leak of cable coolant fluid to allow more extensive permanent repairs.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for Bouchard, an oil-barging company established in 1918, said, “Out of respect for the legal process, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.”

NYPA said in its suit that it seeks to recoup “extensive costs NYPA is incurring as a result of damage to the marine section” of the cable.

For now, the costs of repairing the cable are being paid for by LIPA customers because that authority is the primary user of the cable and is responsible for repairs and maintenance, according to PSEG Long Island, which operates the grid.

The cable failed Jan. 6. NYPA blames that on damage it says was caused when the vessel tandem — the 32-year-old tug and eight-year-old barge — deployed its anchor and anchor chain at the entrance to Hempstead Harbor, “damaging the cable and resulting in a leak of cable fluid.”

Initially the cable was leaking about 5 gallons of nontoxic fluid an hour, NYPA said, but that had been substantially reduced. The agency was coordinating with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Coast Guard to contain the leak.

“There is no indication that the fluid reached the shoreline or impacted wildlife,” NYPA said.

The lawsuit notes that the Bouchard tug is outfitted with the Intercon coupler system “which allows the bow of the tug to connect to the stern of the barge in a pushing configuration that is rigid and mechanically locked. When in this pushing configuration the tug and barge roll and heave in unison and the tug and barge maneuver as if they were a single vessel.”

The lawsuit states that the cable tripped offline on Jan. 6 at about 0702. The next day the Coast Guard advised NYPA that at about 0700 the previous day a vessel anchored in the vicinity of the cable. “The Coast Guard provided NYPA with geographical coordinates where a vessel anchored,” the lawsuit said. “These coordinates identified closely with the impacted area of the Y-49 cable system.”

NYPA said it had divers begin to excavate the damaged section. Marine surveyors used sidescan sonar to create an image of the seabed around the cable. “The result of side-scan sonar imaging reflected anchor and anchor chain drag marking on the seabed over and across the Y-49 cable system,” the suit said.

The authority said, “underwater jet plows are excavating hundreds of feet of the cable so that it can be raised out of the water and onto a barge for permanent repairs.” It added that the permanent repairs will take several months “at a minimum.”

The 23-mile cable connects Long Island to the upstate power grid.

NYPA said it utilized a spare cable already installed across the Sound to bring the electric transmission line back to full operation on Jan. 16.

By Professional Mariner Staff