NARRAGANSETT, R.I. (WPRI) — A strong storm last month sent a 100-foot wind turbine toppling over at Salty Brine State Beach in Narragansett.
Eyewitness News dug into the turbine’s history and uncovered state officials were warned the tower may have been unstable nearly a year before it fell.
Wind gusts up to 60 mph on March 14 snapped the $32,000 state-funded structure in half. Unveiled in 2010, it was built to withstand winds up to 130 mph.
In response to a public records request from Eyewitness News, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management provided 95 pages of inspection and maintenance records for the turbine.
In an email dated May 24, 2016, a company tasked with performing biannual inspections of the turbine told a DEM official it appeared the tower was missing bolts and suggested it be looked at by a specialist.
The DEM official who received the email – whose name was redacted – sent it to another official, along with a picture and the words “Structural Concern: missing bolts on the lattice tower.”
On Tuesday, DEM admitted the wind and the missing bolts were why the tower collapsed, but said the inspection company should have fixed it.
“We are holding the contractor accountable and assessing the appropriateness of personnel action on the state side,” a DEM spokesperson said in a statement.
Eyewitness News contacted the contractor on Tuesday, and he said he couldn’t recall if the work was actually done.
Last month, the turbine’s designer said he believed the tower likely collapsed because of a bolt problem.
When the tower was first built, it was pitched as cost-saving because it would supply electricity. Eyewitness News learned Tuesday that taxpayers have spent thousands of dollars over the last two years just to keep it functional, though there’s no record of the bolt problem being addressed.
Repairs to a safety cable in Feb. 2015 cost $4,550, an inspection in May 2016 cost $5,000, and $1,040.61 was spent last September to replace fuses. That work totaled $10,590.61 for a tower that only cost $32,000 to begin with and collapsed just seven years after it was erected.