Salem power plant back in operation

By Tom Dalton

Staff writer, The Salem News

Sat, March 29, 2008

SALEM — Salem Harbor Station will go back into operation today, nearly five months after three workers were killed in a boiler accident, plant officials said. The power plant has been shut down since the Nov. 6 tragedy.

A coal-fired generator, one of four power units at the 745-megawatt plant, was fired up last night and was expected to start producing electricity by this afternoon. The rest of the facility will start up gradually, with two other generators coming online over the next few weeks, officials said.

"We're excited to get back into operation," said Dan Weekley, an official at Dominion, the plant owner.

The start-up is expected to be an emotional time for plant workers, who lost three fellow employees when a boiler tube ruptured, blasting the men with super-hot steam under high pressure. Killed in the accident were Mark Mansfield of Peabody, Phil Robinson of Beverly and Mathew Indeglia of Lawrence.

"We're never going to forget what happened, but we're going to move ahead now," said Rick Robey, president of IBEW Local 326, which represents more than 100 plant employees.

Salem Harbor Station employees have been on the job and getting paid for the past five months even though the plant has not been in operation. They have been assisting a team of more than 100 outside contractors in the cleanup of the main plant building, which was covered with debris and asbestos-laced fly ash from the explosion.

That cleanup is expected to continue for another few weeks.

Meanwhile, no findings have been announced into the cause of the accident. Parts from the boiler that failed were sent to a laboratory in Texas, which has completed tests, according to Dominion.

"The investigation into the explosion remains ongoing," said Steve O'Connell, a spokesman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

Lawyers for the deceased workers are conducting a separate investigation. One of the lawyers, Attorney Douglas Sheff of Boston, declined to comment on the case.

The plant got the OK to start up from state boiler inspectors working for the Department of Public Safety.

"They are satisfied that the unit is safe to operate and will operate efficiently," Weekley said.

A union official also expressed confidence in the reinspection of equipment following the accident. Robey said the company "went way over and above" safety checks required in the state inspection.

"Steps are being taken to make sure something like this doesn't happen again," he said. "It's impossible to say something will never happen, but the precautions and testing taking place is making everybody feel comfortable that we're probably going to be better than we were before."

As the plant gets back into operation, company officials thanked the community for the outpouring of support following the tragedy.

"Their support was incredible in terms of what people did for us over the past five months," said Mike Fitzgerald, the general manager of Salem Harbor Station.

Fitzgerald also praised workers for persevering through a trying time.

"They really stepped up to the plate ... in terms of getting the job done and getting the job done safely under difficult circumstances. It made me proud to be the plant manager."

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