Electric utility officials warn of problems, including extended outages, that could result from flooding around a key electrical facility that serves parts of southern Terrebonne and eastern Houma.
Officials from the South Louisiana Electrical Cooperative Association discussed the issue Wednesday evening with the Terrebonne Parish Council.
SLECA officials argue that the problems result from the wetlands that a company has created for something called a “mitigation bank”. In such projects, companies that damage wetlands in one location can compensate for these losses by creating wetlands elsewhere.
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Officials for the utility did not name the company and some of the details involved, citing an ongoing dispute.
But they said they wanted to alert council and the public that part of the parish, including Chabert Medical Center, Ashland Prison and several shipyards, could lose power if flooding compromised the Ashland electrical substation.
“We are here to educate your constituents on the potential issues we are going to face in the future,” Brett Ledet, SLECA’s director of engineering, told the board.
The substation is a hub that supplies 5,161 customers east of Houma and south to Dulac and Dularge. This represents about 23% of total SLECA customers in Terrebonne, said Joe Ticheli, general manager of the utility.
“The Ashland substation is probably our most important substation in the five parishes we serve,” he said. “And that’s because of all the big industry, the commercial enterprises, all the different varieties of businesses that depend on the Ashland substation for their electrical power.”
Some of the parish’s largest employers are supplied with electricity from the substation, including LaShip and Bollinger Shipyards, Oil Service Companies Chett Morrison and Pipeline Construction & Maintenance and Enterprise Marine Services, a barge and towing company. .
The substation also supplies the Bubba Dove dump valve in the Houma navigation channel and others in Dulac and Dularge that prevent flooding during storms in the Gulf of Mexico, although these have back-up generators.
Ledet’s presentation included a drone video that shows the substation surrounded by water after a rain storm in late March.
He said flooding around the substation and some of SLECA’s utility poles nearby could not only cause equipment to fail, but could make access and repair difficult and time-consuming for workers. And that could leave residential and commercial customers without power longer than they would otherwise be after a storm or heavy rain.
“The drainage of the site will be affected, the access to our facilities, because of the water that is now on the site. It’s going to lengthen our downtime, maintain, rebuild, do what we need to do, ”said Ledet.
“And then security – generally speaking I think everyone understands that electricity and water don’t mix,” he said. “It creates a lot of danger for our guys out there already in one of the most dangerous areas you can be in. And so to make it more dangerous, you know, it’s right, it’s very dangerous. “
SLECA officials and council members have expressed particular concerns about the start of the hurricane season on June 1.
“This substation, 95% of voters in District 7 are directly affected by this, and that’s what I stand for,” said city councilor Danny Babin. “Last year we had five storms or six storms in the Gulf of Mexico. If that goes away and it gets flooded with water, we could have almost all of District 7 – which, like they said earlier, was the economic engine, a hospital – out. “