Line failure shuts down MRC; fix proves complicated

Town of Slave Lake Project Manager Doug Baird looks on as Emes Electric personnel work on a splice job to get power running fully into the multi-rec centre last Thursday morning.

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

One playoff hockey game was in progress and another one was about to start last Tuesday when something went haywire with the power. Lights started flickering, said people who were there; others reported smoke and flames in the vicinity of a transformer box in the parking lot. The place was quickly evacuated for safety reasons.
What had happened, The Leader learned later from town manager Brian Vance, was a cable running underground from the transformer into the building had “burned off.” It left the transformer undamaged, but cut half the power to the multi-rec centre.
The good news in the scenario, Vance said, was that there are two such cables carrying power to the facility, and the other one was undamaged. Exactly how much power it could carry was initially uncertain and a matter for experimentation.
“One is not capable of carrying the full capacity,” Vance said. “It can keep the ice compressors going and the lights in the reception area. The good news is we don’t have to rebuild the ice.”
This was the first thing on the minds of many people, with a provincial championship hockey tournament coming up on the weekend of the 25th.
The prognosis for fixing the damaged line was a bit “fuzzy,” on Wednesday morning. Vance said this was due to the fact the lines tend to freeze inside their plastic conduits in winter, and can’t be simply pulled out like they can in the summer. So digging was required, and there was some doubt as to how successful that might be. If it wasn’t, Plan ‘B’ called for a splice job, and a temporary cable to run above ground to where it needed to go inside the building. By Thursday, that scheme had been abandoned as being too expensive, town project manager Doug Baird said. Instead, an underground splice was attempted by a local contractor. The power to the MRC was completely shut off during the operation.

Baird said the heavy cable was completely severed by the fire. He figures it was the result of several years of freezing and thawing degrading the cable, which was probably also nicked at the time of installation. Having the plastic conduit cut off at ground level (instead of above) didn’t help.
“Water and wire don’t get along,” said Baird.
The story kept developing through Thursday. The damage turned out to be worse than expected, making a quick fix difficult or at least too expensive.
“Fortunately there are enough good conductors between the two to make one good three-phase connection,” Vance said in an email. “The bad news is that we can’t run everything off this. Staff are presently looking at the schedule to see how we can meet the most needs. For example we can’t run the ice plant plus lights in all three venues. We can run the ice plant plus lights in the arenas so we are okay for the tournament.”
Final word by press time: During the hockey tournament, the field house and play area will be completely shut down, with all available power reserved for the two ice rinks and reception area. That is from Thursday, Mar. 23 to Sunday, Mar. 26.

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