Utility Plans Major Pole Upgrades On Route 50; $43M Effort To Start In October

BERLIN — In a project similar to what occurred last fall in Ocean City, a large scale transition from wooden utility poles to metal will begin in Worcester County next month.

The upgrade will take place over a nine-mile, 69,000-volt transmission line that stretches from Berlin to Ocean City. It will take about eight months and cause at least one, albeit short, planned power outage.

Roughly 150, 45- to 60-foot wooden poles are going to be swapped out during the transition and replaced with larger steel poles.

“They’re going to increase in height,” said Jim Smith, senior public affairs manager for Delmarva Power. “They’re going to go to about 80 to 90 feet.”

The new metal fixtures are becoming the industry standard, Smith told the Berlin Town Council Monday. The poles will be a mix of dark brown, “weathering steel” planted mostly in wooded locations as well as gray galvanized steel. The latter will be used in coastal and dense population areas since galvanization offers the metal protection from salt erosion.

The scale of the retro-fitting is significant for Delmarva Power. But it’s also one the company considers a vital upgrade of a decades old system.

“This is a fairly large project. Even though it’s only nine miles, it is a $43 million project,” said Smith. “The biggest thing from a reliability perspective is that this is a modernization project. This transmission line was built about a half-century ago.”

Work is set to begin in October and carry on until around Memorial Day. Smith doesn’t expect that there will be much of a disruption to the area during the process. A majority of the system is hidden away in fields and wooded locales with only about 25-percent easily visible.

One of the aspects of the upgrade that is likely to be noticed, however, is a one-time necessary power outage along the route. Exactly when that blackout will take place depends on what kind of weather the shore gets this winter, but Smith said the plan is for the outage to occur overnight during the first weekend in December, either that Friday or Saturday. The blackout would likely start around midnight or 1 a.m. and last approximately four hours.

Smith told the council that every angle is explored during these projects to avoid any loss of power and to have most construction take place as “hot work.” In this case, however, an outage cannot be avoided but Smith believes having it occur during the early morning hours of the weekend should trim disruption down as much as possible.

Once completed, the line upgrade should be a large step forward in terms of modernization. The steel poles hold up much better to weather, high winds and salt. Even in hurricane winds of up to 120 mph, the structures are expected to hold. They are also much taller allowing for more clearance.

“We’re looking forward to this project to improve reliability here in Worcester County not only for our customers,” Smith told the council, “but also for the folks that you serve here in the town of Berlin and also Choptank.”

It was “comforting to know that infrastructure is important,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall after Smith’s presentation. Mayor Gee Williams said likewise and stressed that the most vital part of the upgrade will be keeping open lines of communication so that the town, Delmarva Power and customers are kept abreast.

After this initial project, the plan is for a second phase that will occur between fall 2015 and spring of 2016 to replace the cable under the Isle of Wight Bay that connects West Ocean City to Ocean City. Preliminary underground construction will take place in downtown Ocean City between this fall and January 2015.