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Pepco Takes Blame For Communication Issues In Cable Repair Project

By Aaron Kraut

Tuesday - 1/21/2014, 10:00am  ET

Pepco contractors line up on Luxmanor Road in North Bethesda on Thursday morning (file photo)A Pepco representative said the electric company should have warned residents in a North Bethesda neighborhood of overnight emergency repair work that could continue into the first week of March.

Jerry Pasternak, Pepco’s region vice president for Maryland Affairs, told residents of the Luxmanor neighborhood on Monday that the company “clearly could do better” in communicating with its customers.

Residents started complaining last week about heavy truck traffic, construction lights and generators being used for overnight digging on Luxmanor Road, near Tilden Lane and Old Georgetown Road.

At a meeting with the neighborhood’s civic association on Monday, Pasternak said Pepco had to move quickly to remove an underground cable that had a fault.

Pasternak said Pepco detected the fault on Jan. 6 through the cable line’s substation. The first mention of the overnight drilling work came on the Luxmanor listserv on Jan. 15, when a resident said she was kept at night by overnight work on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15.

Shortly after those complaints and our story on the repairs last Thursday, Pepco officials contacted residents and arranged Monday’s meeting.

“We certainly understand that there’s been an inconvenience and there has been a lack of notice,” Pasternak said. “And given the circumstances, it really was, at least at the very beginning stages of this, unavoidable and I apologize for that.”

Pasternak said it took Pepco and its contractors about a day to isolate the fault to a 1,500-foot section of underground, pipe-insulated cable between Luxmanor Road and Old Georgetown Road. On Jan. 8, crews started the process of cutting through the pipe and removing the faulty cable.

“Just given the nature of the problem and the time it took to get the work started, we simply didn’t have an opportunity to come here beforehand and explain what we’re going to do,” Pasternak said.

The fault did not interrupt electricity service, as other cables in the area picked up the slack.

But Pasternak described why the process for replacing the roughly 40-year-old cable requires overnight work and how it will go on until at least March 1.

Pepco contractors dug two pits at two manholes — one at Tilden Lane and Old Georgetown Road and one on Luxmanor Road between Sedgwick Lane and Roseland Drive. There are now steel plates over those pits.

Pasternak said there is no current going through the cable, which runs through a pipe that uses non-toxic mineral oil as a coolant. Crews had to cut the pipe at two points and remove the oil using generator-powered equipment.

Weather permitting, those crews will begin to remove the section of broken cable on Tuesday, a process that will take seven to 10 days and will not go past 5 p.m. Pasternak said there will be dumpsters and vacuum trucks in the neighborhood to clean up debris.

The replacement cable is expected to be on site on Feb. 5, Pasternak said. Pepco will again have to perform noisy overnight work to pull the new cable through the pipe. The 12-18 hours worth of work must be done with no breaks to ensure there is the proper tension in the cable.

The next part of the process is splicing the cables and pipe on both ends, which should take 10 days total and involve more overnight work.

The work has and will continue to involve temporary closures of Luxmanor Road in that section, with only residents allowed to pass through.

Another seven to 10 days of preparing the cable follows the splicing, which Pasternak said should happen during the day and involve fewer trucks and heavy equipment. Pepco will temporarily resurface the road until the temperature warms up enough for a permanent resurfacing and replacement of damaged grass and gravel on any homeowner’s property.

Some raised concerns about seeping electrical voltage or other safety hazards. Pasternak said the only safety concerns with the project are a result of the large trucks and equipment at ground level. He said an industrial hygienist inspected the site and found no friable asbestos.

He also said Pepco would keep the neighborhood updated about the progress of the project the rest of the way.

“We are going to look at our protocols and see where we can inject a notification provision,” Pasternak said. “We should try to explain that better. We have to do a better job than this case. We’re going to try to do better next time.”