The Sisters' pole inspections 'inadequate'

The Sisters' pole inspections 'inadequate'

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BUSHFIRE: Bernie Harris and Jack Kenna Junior with the pole that snapped and caused The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire.

BUSHFIRE: Bernie Harris and Jack Kenna Junior with the pole that snapped and caused The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire.

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The last inspection of a rotten wooden power pole near Terang, which snapped in moderate winds and caused a bushfire, took just 90 seconds.

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The last inspection of a rotten wooden power pole near Terang, which snapped in moderate winds and caused a bushfire, took just 90 seconds, according to lawyers for the victims.

That inspection happened less than four months before pole number four on the Sparrow Spur line at The Sisters broke off on March 17 last year causing The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire.

Francis Tiernan, QC, made the claim the inspection took just 90 seconds during his opening address in the Supreme Court civil trial at Melbourne on Tuesday against electricity giant Powercor.

He said an inspector outlined in evidence that a full inspection of each pole took 20 to 30 minutes and a top-only inspection between 10 and 15 minutes.

The barrister said it was clear that on November 30, 2017, inspections of poles numbers three, four and five by inspector Peter McFarlane took about 18 minutes - five minutes for pole five, 90 seconds for pole four, and 6.5 minutes for pole three.

Mr Tiernan said the pole inspection program was unwieldy and unsophisticated which was incapable of recognising red flag issues.

He said pole number four wasn't given adequate attention from 2004 during five inspections, especially after the 2005 inspection found a good wood reading of just 70 millimetres.

The barrister said the epicentre of rot decay was above the pole's double stakes and should have been detected, but that was simply not possible when the inspection took just "a few minutes".

"There was no drilling above the stakes where the internal cavity was at its largest," he said.

Mr Tiernan said if drilling had been conducted "surely the pole would have been removed before it failed".

He claimed the inspections were "inadequate and in many respects indefensible".

The barrister said the ongoing inspection regime was a grave concern as Victoria entered a potential catastrophic bushfire season.

Barrister Tim Margetts, QC, said Powercor had adopted the asset management regime accepted and approved by regulator Energy Safe Victoria.

He said the issue was whether Powercor's actions were a reasonable response to the risk posed and the company claimed it had discharged its duty of care.

The barrister said Powercor had a network of 561,471 power poles, including about 366,000 wooden poles.

Mr Margetts said there were a lot of poles in the system and it was not always possible to predict a failure, especially when the structural failing was above the re-enforced stakes, which was regarded as a highly unusual event.

Mr Tiernan also claimed that Powercor would face a future tsunami of failing Mountain Grey Gum wooden power poles.

He also claimed that Powercor reduced pole number four on The Sparrow Spur line to "large matchsticks" during secret destructive testing which the barrister described as "outrageous conduct".

That power pole snapped causing The Sisters/Garvoc bushfire on March 17 last year.

Mr Tiernan said that experts would say that hundreds of thousands of poles, particularly those 19,000 with reinforced stakes were "the proverbial ticking time bomb".

He said Powercor faced a tsunami of problems and likely failures in regard to reinforced Mountain Grey Gum power poles.

Mountain Grey Gum has not been used for new poles since about 1984.

The story The Sisters' pole inspections 'inadequate' first appeared on The Standard.

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