Pole fall fears

Fed up: Ex-Delta employee Richard Healey PICTURE: OTAGO DAILY TIMES

A Delta whistleblower fears someone might be killed if more rotten Queenstown power poles fall over.

The infrastructure company is pumping an extra $26 million into replacing dodgy poles across Otago, upping the replacement rate from about 50 a month to more than 300 a month from March next year.

But that’s cold comfort for Dunedin man Richard Healey.

He quit Delta last month to blow the whistle on what he claims is the company’s poor maintenance.

Healey fears replacements might be too late.

Rotten to the core: The inside of the fallen power pole on Morven Ferry Road
Rotten to the core: The inside of the fallen power pole on Morven Ferry Road

In July a pole hit the deck on Morven Ferry Road, at Arrow Junction, eight days after being climbed twice by Delta staff.

The pole brought down 33kV and 11kV lines and did not have a red tag on it.

Red tags are nailed to a power pole if they are unfit to climb.

Miraculously the lines were caught in the only tree within 400 metres of the power pole, he says.

“If the lines were left hanging above the ground they would have presented a fatal risk for anyone who came into contact with them”.

Healey says the pole fall “scared the hell” out of the senior Delta worker in charge that day.

If live wires reached the ground near the road there was a “good chance” the ground would become a charged-up death sentence.

The resort is home to more than 80 dodgy poles.

Delta says it’s spending $30.25m replacing nearly 3000 “condition zero” and “condition one” poles – 1930 of which are in Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago.

Before that, only $4.25m was budgeted for pole replacements in this financial year.

In an emailed statement, Delta comms man Gary Johnson says: “We take the safety of our network very seriously.”

The company wouldn’t reveal how many poles have fallen in the Wakatipu basin over the past 12 months.

Red flag: A power pole on Queenstown's Hobart Street
Red flag: A power pole on Queenstown’s Hobart Street

Queenstown mayor Jim Boult says the council has discussed dodgy poles with Delta.

It’s told Delta it wants to see a general solution plan for replacing power poles and a specific plan for the Queenstown Lakes.

Boult says the council is “encouraged by the extra funding” and he will meet Delta boss Grady Cameron early next month to discuss progress.

Healey says Delta’s incident report into the Morven Ferry Rd mishap noted it was due to an “extreme weather event” and marked as a “moderate risk”.

Yet he says the peak wind gust at the Queenstown Airport was 62kmh that day and a healthy pole can stand winds of up to nearly 160kmh.

Healey says any time there is even a potential risk to life it should be considered “extreme risk”.

The whistleblower says three Delta staffers checked the Morven Ferry pole to ensure it was safe to climb – and they believed it was.

Healey fears a “hidden incentive” may be at play.

After any high or extreme risk incidents an automated email is sent to head honcho Cameron.

Healey, who left his job at Delta to blow the whistle on the company, says “honest to God, you could write a book about this”.