CUTLER, Maine — A $14 million project to run a power cable across the Machias Bay to connect the Navy base at Cutler to the Emera Maine power grid will be delayed until 2016, according to a Navy official.
Tom Kreidel, public affairs officer for the Naval Facilities Engineering Unit in Norfolk, Virginia, said Thursday that bids for the work were returned higher than anticipated. He said he could not comment on the specific bid amounts.
Kreidel said a cost increase notification was submitted earlier this month to Congress, which will then decide whether it wants to fund the project at a higher cost. Kreidel said he had no idea how long it would be before Navy officials hear from Congress.
“We don’t really have control over that part of the process,” he said.
He did say the earliest work could begin would be November 2016. Initially, the Navy hoped to have the contract awarded by this summer so that they could begin laying the cable this November.
Work will be done over the winter to minimize the effect on the fishing industry, he said.
The Navy wants to convert the communications facility, known as the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic Detachment Cutler, from an antiquated diesel generated power system to the electric power grid.
The project would involve burying a cable 5 feet deep, across about 6.5 miles of the floor of the Machias Bay. The cable would connect the Cutler facility to an Emera Maine substation in Bucks Harbor.
The project is estimated to save $3.9 million annually in fuel costs and originally was to pay for itself in about six years.
The Cutler facility will keep the diesel generator system as a backup, he said. Seventeen civilians work in the diesel generating plant. Whether all of those positions would remain is yet to be determined.
“Once everything is in place then they would do a study to see how it would affect the manpower,” said Kreidel.
The project has generated concerns among scallop fishermen because the cable would straddle two scallop management areas in the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Navy will determine after the project is completed what restrictions, if any, will need to be placed on the fishery.
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 in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean regions.
The station continues to operate around the clock.