After blast, RI asks Coast Guard to remove old power lines

AP News
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Posted: Aug 20, 2015 1:26 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo wants the Coast Guard to remove abandoned power cables near state beaches after a corroded copper cable was identified as the likely cause of an explosion that injured a beachgoer.

Scientists determined that the July 11 explosion at Salty Brine Beach in Narragansett was probably caused by the combustion of hydrogen that had built up around the cable.

The cable was installed under the sand in the 1950s. It powered the Coast Guard's navigational lights before it was disconnected and abandoned.

A new cable was installed in the 1980s. The Coast Guard later converted its navigational aids to solar power.

Both cables have been removed from under the beach, but portions remain under water beyond the low tide line, according to the state Department of Environmental Management.

The Democratic governor wrote to the commander of the Coast Guard First District in Boston last week. She said she was making the request to "avoid any further public safety concerns with abandoned power cables in the area of our state beaches."

The district received the letter Wednesday and is reviewing Raimondo's request, said Chief Petty Officer Luke Pinneo. Pinneo said public safety is the primary focus but the course of action, at this stage, is not clear.

DEM Director Janet Coit said her team checked records and found no evidence of similar Coast Guard cables installed at other state beaches besides Salty Brine. Unlike the others, Salty Brine is part of an active port, she said.

The Coast Guard has said it left the abandoned cables in place because removing them could disturb the environment.

Scientists were initially stumped about what caused the blast. Witnesses heard a loud boom and a Waterbury, Connecticut woman was sent flying into a jetty. She fractured two ribs. The popular beach was evacuated and temporarily closed.

Scientists have found no detectable levels of hydrogen or other volatile gases during follow-up tests since the cables were removed from the beach, Coit said. What happened at Salty Brine was a "very strange confluence of events," and the state's beaches are safe, she said.

"Beaches can be dangerous with the tides and waves, but we feel like on this score, we're in the clear," Coit said.

Tests at Salty Brine are continuing through the summer. Coit said the department is working with scientists at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography on a final report that should be finished by the end of September.