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Underground power validated by storms

Story by Airman Jose Climaco
Thunderbolt staff writer

Transformers and power lines are safer underground, where they are protected from the elements.

Photo by Airman Jose Climaco

When Brig. Gen. Tanker Snyder, 6th Air Mobility Wing commander, arrived at MacDill, it didn't take him long to set a few priorities, one of the first was to upgrade the base utility infrastructure, and chief among those improvements was getting above-ground power lines off the poles and underground.

The wisdom of tucking transmission lines safely beneath terra firma is undisputed, but if there were any doubts, two recent hurricane threats and thousands of people across Florida without power for days or even weeks, has put them to rest.

"It's the way to go, and it was one of General Snyder's goals and a big push of his when he got here," said Michael Cooley, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron director of plans.

While it likely will be at least next hurricane season before MacDill's electrical infrastructure is storm proofed, the project already is under way.

Using $13 million in 2002 to 2003 funds, work began late last year, with lines along Bayshore Boulevard from the MacDill Gate to just south of the Davis Conference Center recently completed. Last week, the base received $8.1 million and will be used to begin the next phase of work, from the start of Hangar Loop Drive to about Hangar 5. The project is out to bid now and should begin sometime in December, said Mr. Cooley.

General Snyder notes the "investment in the future and infrastructure of MacDill is important to the mission" at the base.

"The Wing and its mission partners all depend on electricity and not only does having the lines underground look better, it is better from a reliability and maintenance standpoint," General Snyder said, adding that the lines buried along Bayshore performed flawlessly during Hurricane Frances.

Funds have been approved for finishing work on the remainder of Bayshore south and from Hangar 5 south to the Fam Camp, said Mr. Cooley, although it is not yet known when they will be available.

MacDill lost power to some residential areas briefly in Hurricane Frances when older power infrastructure failed, but because the base was spared the worst of the storm, there were no major outages. And while hurricanes can be devastating, the pervasive threat is lighting and MacDill frequently loses power due to strikes hitting power pole transformers, said Mr. Cooley.

"That's the biggest ongoing threat," he said. "We get so much lightning, we're always losing power due to thunderstorms and lightning strikes."

If a big storm does hit, underground lines will be just one less thing to worry about, Mr. Cooley said. Even if flooded, underground lines are safe, as switching points are above ground and build above the flood plane.

"You don't have to worry about water and obviously they are protected from the wind and lighting so it's a lot better situation all around," he said.

In all, $35 million is budgeted for the work, which is part of an overall plan to improve, protect and modernize the utilities on base. Water pipes and distribution pumps and wastewater treatment improvements have been another priority, with work well under way on both systems.

 

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