Violations Occur During Powerlink Construction

By Published On: April 15, 2011

Workers building San Diego Gas & Electric’s Sunrise Powerlink project have violated state or federal construction guidelines, according to California Public Utilities Commission documents. Most of the nearly dozen incidents since last November have not been serious, but among them were a March 9 event where a helicopter pilot repeatedly flew into a golden eagle nesting area that had been declared off limits. In an incident report and subsequent prepared statement, SDG&E said that the pilot in the no-fly nesting zone was working for contractor PAR Electric. “According to PAR, the pilot knew he was entering the buffer zone,” according to SDG&E’s incident report on the matter. “PAR has removed this pilot from further work on the project.” Although SDG&E says no birds were harmed in the incident, U.S. Fish & Wildlife department spokesperson Jane Hendron says her agency is conducting its own investigation into the matter. Under federal law, a helicopter can fly no closer than 4,000 feet to an eagle’s nest. In all, there have been 11 reported construction-related incidents since last November, according to the latest in a series of weekly reports given to the CPUC by the Aspen Environmental Group, an Agoura Hills consulting company that’s monitoring construction and compliance activities associated with the project. Among the other violations reported over the past five months were the removal of water from an excavation hole without prior notification of the CPUC; the placement of construction equipment outside of approved disturbance areas; and the installation of a security system at a construction yard without prior CPUC approval. The security apparatus was later removed because it contained an audible alarm that was deemed a possible nuisance to wildlife. In another incident, about 10 gallons of diesel fuel was accidentally released at one of the project’s construction yards on March 30 requiring emergency clean-up actions and notification of a county storm water hotline. As of April 8, current construction activities include building sections of overhead and underground transmission lines, according to Aspen Environmental, as well as construction and upgrades of substations in the Suncrest, Imperial Valley, San Luis Rey, and Encina areas. Although a groundbreaking ceremony for the $2 billion, 117-mile Powerlink project was held in December, preliminary construction actually began three months earlier, in September. Construction of the 500 kV line could be complete by mid-2012, according to utility spokesperson Jennifer Ramp.

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