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EWEB sues over dam work.

Byline: Christian Hill The Register-Guard

The Eugene Water & Electric Board is suing the companies that engineered and supplied Leaburg Dam's three hydraulic motor hoists, alleging they delivered a flawed system that the utility is now spending millions of dollars to replace.

The utility seeks at least $5 million in damages from MWH Americas Inc., which engineered the motor hoists and an associated retrofit of the dam's three rollgates, and Portland-based Advanced American Construction Inc., which supplied and installed the new system, for alleged breach of contract and negligence.

The hydraulic hoists replaced decades-old electric hoists. In its claim, EWEB says the hydraulic hoists are unsuited to lifting the massive 86-year-old rollgates, which weigh 100 tons apiece.

EWEB declined further comment. "We prefer to let the written legal claim speak for itself," spokesman Joe Harwood said.

Meg VanderLaan, MWH's chief communications officer, declined comment Thursday. Dee Burch, Advanced American Construction's president, didn't return a phone message seeking comment.

The lawsuit caps months of trouble for EWEB over the dam's rollgates, which are supposed to rise in order to let water pass underneath them, and drop in order to hold back water and raise the level in Leaburg Lake.

The buildup of water behind the gates allows EWEB to divert water down a canal and through turbines to generate electricity for its customers.

The utility filed the lawsuit Tuesday, the same day EWEB commissioners amended their contract with a different contractor that has successfully swapped out the motor hoist for one of the dam's rollgates, so it could do the same work for the other two systems. The lawsuit wasn't publicly available until Wednesday afternoon.

The motor hoist that is now repaired had failed in January 2012. The motor hoist on the second gate failed in December, and EWEB has reported problems with the motor hoist on its third rollgate, although it continues to operate.

The dam's regulator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, has ordered EWEB to replace the two remaining motor hoists due to the problems.

EWEB estimates the work, set to resume next month, will cost $6 million.

The utility said it only learned after the failure of the second motor hoist that incorporating the motor hoists installed by Advanced American into MWH's engineering design was "part of a systemic design error" because they couldn't "safely and reliably drive the roughly 200,000 pound roll gates on the Leaburg Dam facility without catastrophic failure," according to the lawsuit.

EWEB faulted MWH for designing a defective project and Advanced American for supplying motor hoists not up for the job.

In the late 1990s, EWEB wanted to raise the lake level to regain power generation it lost when a mandated project to put up screens to keep salmon from getting caught in the turbines cut the flow and velocity of water down the power canal. The dam is 27 miles east of Eugene on the McKenzie River.

As part of that work, EWEB contracted with MWH, a global company headquartered in Bloomfield, Colo., the following year to engineer the project, and the company "strongly preferred and recommended" that EWEB swap out the dam's old electric hoist systems with hydraulic ones, the lawsuit said. The hydraulic motors were to raise and lower the rollgates that were being retrofitted to handle the increased pressure from the elevated lake.

EWEB then contracted with Advanced American as the prime contractor for the project. The Portland company subcontracted with MacTaggart Scott, a Scottish company, to build the motors. Advanced American is "responsible for all damage to property" arising from actions by the company or its subcontractors, the lawsuit said.

EWEB expected the motor hoists would last 50 years. The old electric motor hoists operated for nearly 75 years without a failure, the lawsuit said.

But that life expectancy was brought up short when the motor hoist for rollgate No. 2, in the middle of the dam, failed on Jan. 19, 2012, after heavy rains caused wooden debris to flow down the swollen McKenzie River. The rollgate "shuddered massively, produced a loud boom, and collapsed into the gate well," the lawsuit said.

Then on Dec. 23, as the new contractor was working to swap out the failed hydraulic motor hoist with a new electric one on rollgate No. 2, the motor hoist on rollgate No. 1 failed and stuck in the down position.

The following day, the operating motor hoist on rollgate No. 3 briefly malfunctioned, and operators subsequently locked that rollgate into place for about a month in the raised position to avoid having it jam in the down position, which would have resulted in water building up behind all three gates.

EWEB later discovered the rotor in the rollgate No. 2 hoist motor had split in half, but an analysis was unable to determine what exactly caused the damage.

The utility found that most of the teeth on the rotor of the second failed motor hoist had sheared off, leading to that system's failure.

Records show EWEB reported to regulators that an unfamilar noise, "a popping sound" as they described it, from the motor for rollgate No. 3 prompted operators to troubleshoot the system for two days in March. The rollgate is operating normally.

EWEB requested in its lawsuit a jury determine the exact amount of damages but is asking for no less than $5 million. No trial date has been set and the companies have not yet filed responses.

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Title Annotation:Eugene Water and Electric Board; The lawsuit claims new hydraulic motor hoists for replacement rollgates were designed with flaws
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 8, 2015
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