Phase II of SMECO’s Southern Maryland Reliability Project — boring below the Patuxent River — has begun on the St. Mary’s County side and will end on the Calvert County side, near Point Patience, at Naval Recreation Center Solomons.
According to the SMECO website, the Reliability Project will upgrade 30 miles of existing 69 kilovolt (kV) transmission line and create a continuous 230kV capacity power line loop around the utility company’s service area to ensure system reliability, minimize power outages and enhance emergency preparedness in a region where the number of customers has tripled over the past 30 years and energy demand is now five times greater.
“The river crossing is the most critical and complex portion of the transmission upgrade, which will connect northern Calvert County down to Lexington Park,” said Tom Dennison, SMECO government and public affairs director. “This is an underground boring process utilizing a drill below the Patuxent River bottom. At no point of the process will we ever be in the water.”
With rigs, equipment and supplies at sites on both sides of the river, minimizing inconvenience to nearby communities was a SMECO priority, the company said.
“It’s part of our job and it’s a responsibility we take seriously,” Dennison said. “We care a lot about it and that’s why we worked collaboratively, in advance, with our affected property owners in St. Mary’s County and with Navy officials at the NRC.”
Carrie Jay-Rose, installation director at NRC Solomons, was initially concerned about how the project would impact her customers — people who visit the recreation site for the sole purpose of relaxation; but she needn’t have worried.
“The project was planned to begin deliberately during our slower time of year when most of our facilities and programs are open only on weekends and traffic is lighter so as to affect as few of our customers as possible,” she said. “SMECO was very conscious of the situation and very professional to work with.”
Jay-Rose described some of what visitors to the installation might experience, such as relocated dumpsters or portable toilets; temporary berm bridges to get around the project site and access facilities; and a few road detours. A portion of the fishing pier parking lot has also been corralled for supplies, such as frack tanks and the equipment needed to fuse the conduit that will traverse the river.
“But the fishing pier remains open,” she said, “and detours are well marked with signage in jargon our customers will easily understand. SMECO also constructed acoustic barriers to negate noise, printed road maps for distribution to educate our customers about the detours, and built barriers around our pier comfort station to allow safe customer access throughout the project.”
Drilling below the river bottom meant delicate oyster beds and underwater ecosystems would remain undisturbed, but Naval Air Station Patuxent River Conservation Director Kyle Rambo had other serious concerns regarding the placement of the excavated bore pits and their potential impact to important prehistoric and Colonial 17th and 18th century archaeological sites at Solomons.
“The prehistoric Woodland period site adjacent to the bore pit area was carefully avoided and excluded from SMECO’s easement, and both SMECO and the Navy consulted with the Maryland Historic Trust to be sure that no archaeological sites or other historic resources will be adversely affected,” Rambo said. “In addition, SMECO will have an archaeologist present when they are boring beneath those sites. Their staff understood and appreciated our concerns.”
Dennison said the drill path of the technologically advanced operation begins on North Patuxent Beach Road and continues a minimum of 50 feet below the river bottom – which is as deep as 100 feet in some areas. The process uses a remotely guided gyro steering tool, operated from a control house located on the St. Mary’s side of the river, which tracks the location, depth under the river, and the fluid pressure around the drill head and bore hole.
The first pilot hole, which Dennison described as “a major milestone,” was completed on Sept. 14 and the driller has now begun the process of widening the hole to accommodate the conduit that will be pulled under the river from the NRC side back over to the N. Patuxent Road site.
“We’ll do that twice because we have two circuits going under the river,” Dennison said. “The distance is more than 4,500 feet and only conduit is being laid at this point. The cable will be installed next year.”
Construction of the Southern Maryland Reliability Project began in spring 2012, is occurring in phases, and is planned to be completed by 2015. SMECO reports the total cost of the project is expected to come in around $110 million.