No More Overhead Wires for Marina

PUD is replacing the power distribution system at The Dalles Marina
By Kathy Ursprung

Coils of overhead power lines will disappear after Northern Wasco County PUD completes reconstruction of the power system at The Dalles Marina. The new system, due for completion in April, will be served by lines running along the walkways leading to meter pedestals that will each serve two boathouses. PUD photo

Reconstruction of the electrical system at The Dalles Marina will mean improved appearance and safer, more robust service that better reflects the activities and power needs of the tenants.

The existing power distribution system at the marina was installed in the 1980s.

“Bringing the system up to current standards has been a goal of the PUD since I’ve been here the last three years,” says Pat Morehart, Engineering & Operations Manager for Northern Wasco Count People’s Utility District.

The system was modified over time as boat houses were moved from place to place, sometimes on short notice, so that it became more and more cobbled together.

“It was never really a place of strategic planning in its conception,” says Steve Horzynek, Asset/Program Manager & Engineering Team Lead. “When it started out, it was a couple of shacks and they wanted some lightbulbs in there, then it evolved into what we have today. Along the way, there’s been some planning and protection and provisions for that, but it’s definitely grown into almost a subdivision. I think people’s expectations of comfort have grown.”

Though full-time residency is not allowed, many people see the marina as a vacation home.

“This is very exciting to all of the tenants,” says Angie Wilson, Marina Manager.

The electrical system upgrade will add to a selection of other improvements in the marina, including a new water system, security system, landscaping, and other improvements.

“The finished changes will be that the marina is safe, it will clean up the beauty of it, and instead of a whole finger sharing a 200-amp breaker, each [tenant] will have a 65-amp breaker,” Angie says.

Marine installations like this one are subject to added layers of regulation, Steve notes. In addition to the National Electrical Safety Code and the National Electric Code, marine codes and fire codes also must be followed.

Another safety reason for changing the system is the potential for conflicts between boathouses, boats, and wiring as the river level fluctuates. Last April, when the Corps of Engineers was releasing increased flows over the spillway, the water level was so high that overhead wiring came in contact with a boathouse and sparked a fire.

The Port of The Dalles owns the marina and contracts for its operation. PUD officials began discussing the project with Port representatives and the Marina Manager more than two years ago.

The new system is being constructed with power lines running alongside the dock. A transformer will be placed at each finger and the lines will run from the transformers to meter pedestals that will each serve two neighboring boathouses. Each pedestal will include a lumenier, which will improve lighting along the fingers.

Concealed power lines and meter pedestals will provide a streamlined view at The Dalles Marina.

“There will be no need for modifications inside the boathouse,” Steve says.

Planning and design for the project have been underway for more than a year. Engineering Consultants, Inc. (ECI) of Seattle were the project engineers. Harbor Power Engineers, Inc., was also involved.

On-shore improvements, including a new electrical vault, were installed last fall. Hage Electric started installing the system in the marina in early January. The goal is to complete the project by early April.

“The planning and procurement for this project has taken way longer than the actual nuts and bolts have to put together,” Pat says. The complexity of the marine installation is unique in the PUD service territory.

“This investment that’s being made there is to bring the marina up to current standards and safety provisions with benefits that have been recognized for a long time and will be in place for a long time to come,” Steve says. “The system will have redundancy, robustness, and protection to make people more comfortable down there.”

It’s also an opportunity to help make tenants more aware of the risks related to power in a marine setting, even with upgraded precautions. Some tenants are working on improving their own electrical systems.

“Every marina has that exposure, that inherent risk that Steve was talking about,” Pat says. “It’s not necessarily the dock and the equipment installed permanently as much as it is transient boats and the service beyond our system.”

The PUD system will have ground fault interruptors that will trip if a stray current is detected.

“When we’re done, we will have quite a few signs up warning people of voltage issues,” Steve says.

The PUD also intends to provide a voltage tender for the marina. The device sits in the water, detects the presence of stray current, and emits a lighted alarm.

“We will be working closely with the contractor to transition to the new system,” Steve says. “We’re not expecting any long-term outages.” The overhead system will stay energized and they will convert to the new system as it is built.

The project is part of an estimated $40 million in capital improvements planned throughout the PUD system over the next 10 years.

“We’re busy making investments around this service territory,” Pat says. The improvements are designed to maintain the resiliency of the system for years to come and to take advantage of improved technologies.

“We have a very reliable system and great redundancy, being in the pocket of a BPA [Bonneville Power Administration] stronghold,” Steve says. “We’ve always taken advantage of that to maintain redundancy in our links, so we can do a lot of switching or refeeding from a different direction. In ideal conditions, we can take a substation out of service and nobody even knows the difference.”

He says the PUD system is robust and has aged really well.

“The system was built well and has been maintained to the point that we’ve been able to keep the power on, but it’s time,” Pat says. “That doesn’t mean it lasts forever. The PUD has taken the stance to make improvements before we start to experience a lot of outages and things start burning out on us.”

Many of those improvements will be invisible to the casual observer. The marina offers visible evidence of the kinds of improvements planned systemwide.