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Power Plant


Episode 1 of  THE OUTFALL LINE:

beach job a  beach job a-1

Site of the effluent outfall pipe break off the coast of California at Eureka.

I got a call from George Diefenbaker, one of the local paper mill engineers out at the Samoa peninsula at six a.m. It was a chilly Thursday morning in November. He excitedly told me, “The Coast Guard had discovered a major leak in our ocean outfall line. They reported it to the EPA and us yesterday afternoon. The EPA is sending an inspector up here from San Francisco. He will be here at noon. The mill manager is concerned that if we don’t come up with a plan immediately and implement it, the EPA will shut us down and hit us with a huge fine. This is not the first time we have had issues with them. Meet me at my office in an hour. We have to get a plan together and get started today.” Then he hung up before I could ask any questions.

When I arrived at the mill, a very nervous George led me down to the mill manager’s office and rolled out a plan drawing of the pipeline on the conference table. He pointed his bony finger at a spot a quarter of a mile west of the beach, where he believed the break was. When I asked him for elevations, he produced a profile drawing, which showed the top of the six-foot-diameter pipe. The break was two feet below the sea floor, and that would be four feet below that week’s lowest tide elevation.

George was under a lot of pressure to get this repair done, and he didn’t handle stress well. He stammered, “Jake, I have given your firm a lot of work here over the years, and now it’s payback time. He turned to Howard, the manager and asked him, “Can we divert the effluent to a holding pond for six hours?”

“Yes, I suppose so, what do you have in mind?”

“I want to shut the outfall valve at the property line and then have Jake and his crew enter the pipeline at the beach manhole. Once inside, they can drag their material and equipment the quarter of a mile down to the break, and make a quick patch from inside the pipe. They should be able to do that in under six hours.”

I looked at Howard, and we exchanged concerned glances. George said, “Are you okay with my plan, Jake?”

“I don’t know George, that sounds pretty risky. A lot of bad things could happen when we are inside that pipe under the sea, and the only way out is a quarter of a mile away.”

He angrily insisted that his plan was safe and the risks were minimal. He repeated, “You guys owe me one!” I glanced at Howard and back to George and said, “I’ll tell you what, if you agree to lead us into the pipe, down to the break, and stay with us until the last man is out of the pipe, I’ll ask my crew to do it. What do you sat, George?”

“Damn it, Jake! Don’t play games with me. I’m an office guy, and I have no business doing something like that, and you know it.”

“I take it your answer is no.”

George was shaking and said, “You’re damn right, I won’t go in there! I want you to do this, that’s why you get the big bucks.”

Howard intervened and told George, “Step out of the room and give us a few minutes.”

When he left and slammed the door behind him, Howard said, “How would you repair it, Jake?”

I thought about it for several minutes. Then I flipped the drawing over and sketched out a safe but expensive solution. After I walked him through it, He said, “Okay, Jake. I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Just do it, and I’ll pay you whatever it costs. It’s got to be less than the EPA fine.” I gathered up the pipeline drawing, returned to my office and assigned the project to Max, one of my senior superintendents.

Howard called me about one o’clock and asked me to sit in on his meeting with the EPA, a Coast Guard Petty Officer, and George. After I explained my plan and answered their questions, the EPA and the Coast Guard seemed satisfied that we had a workable plan. The EPA inspector said they would give Howard forty-eight hours to get the operation underway. If he didn’t comply, they would rescind his discharge permit. That would shut down the mill. As he got up to leave, he said, “The Coast Guard would be monitoring your progress on my behalf.”

When I got back to my office and construction yard, which was down the street from the paper mill, my warehousemen were busy mobilizing, and loading tools, equipment, and materials onto trucks. Max was down at the beach setting up a construction yard and building a wood chip road out to the shore-break to keep our cranes, truck, and other equipment from sinking into the loose sand. My steel detailer followed me into the office and asked me to okay his drawing to fabricate a rigging structure over the pipeline. I looked it over, “Good job Junior, give it to Jason in the steel fab shop and tell him I want it done and loaded on a lowboy by noon tomorrow.”

beach job a close up 3                                                Building a wood chip road to the ocean


Episode 2 of THE OUTFALL LINE:

I caught up with Max at the beach. It was a busy place. He had a bulldozer and a couple of laborers pushing a twelve-foot wide roadbed from the highway through the dunes towards the beach. Two dump trucks were feeding redwood chips to a second bulldozer, which was spreading the chips over the soft sand.  “I have six divers coming in from San Francisco tomorrow morning,” I said, ” Jason will have the rigging frame out here about noon tomorrow. Work with the divers to get all the hoses, wiring and rigging hooked up the way they want. Eureka Boiler Works is fabricating the big pipe clamp and delivering it here in the morning. The fifty-ton all-terrain crane will be available after four-thirty, and you can have the forty-five-ton rig at noon tomorrow.”


beach job a close up 2 copy  divers setting marker buoys at the break.

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The crew is building a road and cordoning off the work area on day one.

The next morning all hell broke loose. The divers pulled into our yard in two vans with all their gear. They were a rambunctious collection of ex-Navy Seals, and they were eager to get started. Max took them out to the shop to inspect the rigging frame. They liked it, but they wanted to add this and that, move this over to there, and then they were satisfied. They gave Merlin, the warehouseman, a list of hoses, fittings, and rigging supplies they needed. They told our electrician how they wanted the electrical set up. They walked through the yard and choose the compressors and generators they required. They even commandeered my little skiff. Two of the divers headed into town to get additional gear and the other four followed Max out to the beach where they dove down to the pipe, got a good look at it and set marker buoys.

By the end of the day, everything was out on the beach, the preparations were complete, and we were ready for an early morning start.

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Compressor, generator, divers, pipe clamp, 50-ton crane, dozer, electrician, and loader