Navy makes plans to put Cutler station on the grid

Posted Aug. 27, 2013, at 4:28 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 28, 2013, at 12:23 p.m.

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MACHIAS, Maine — Navy officials are preparing to convert the communications facility in Cutler — once the most powerful communications center in the world — from its current antiquated generated power system to the Bangor Hydro Electric Co. power grid. They’ve set a meeting for Wednesday night in Machias to discuss the proposed project with the public.

The switchover would involve installing a dedicated power supply from Bangor Hydro’s Bucks Harbor substation to the Cutler facility through a power transmission cable on the bottom of Machias Bay. The cable, approximately 6.5 miles long, would be buried 3 feet below the bottom of the bay to avoid being snagged by fishermen.

When it began operating in 1961, the communications station was the largest and most powerful facility of its kind in the world. The gigantic radio transmitting station extended the Navy’s worldwide communication system and transmitted on very low frequency to the fleet, including ballistic missile submarines and other submarines operating in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean regions. The station continues to operate around the clock.

The open house meeting will be held 4-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Rose Gaffney Elementary School, 15 Rose Gaffney Road. A series of poster stations will be set up at the school with information about the proposed project. The open house format will allow people to attend any time during the four-hour period. Information will be provided by Navy officials, and they will answer questions and take comments as part of an environmental assessment.

The communications station is powered by diesel generators, which will be kept operational as a backup source of power for the facility.

Although the project may provide temporary construction jobs, the Navy plans to conduct a study to determine future manpower needs to operate and maintain the diesel power plant as a backup power supply.

The project will provide a number of benefits, according to the Navy. For example, it will greatly reduce air emissions from the diesel power plant and save $3.9 million annually in fuel costs. The $14 million project is expected to pay for itself in a little more than six years, even with no reduction in labor expenses. It would take only a few weeks and be completed by the summer of 2015.

Routing the commercial power supply through the bay is the most efficient option, according to the Navy, since overland power lines would be much longer and carry the risk of being knocked down in winter because of ice and snow.

The station’s communications remain critical, according to Navy officials. The antennas transmit coded communications to submarines around the world that can receive information while they are submerged.

The transmitting station is located on a peninsula of nearly 3,000 acres near the village of Cutler.

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