Clumsy nesting osprey causes compressor fire at Libby water treatment plant

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A nesting osprey that dropped a stick is thought to have set off a chain of events in late May that caused a compressor at Libby’s water treatment plant to catch fire. The city hopes it can replace the compressor’s motor, less than a year old, under warranty.

The May 26 incident was described in a June 3 report City Administrator Jim Hammons prepared for the Libby City Council. About 8 p.m. that Friday, plant operator Kenny Rayome was monitoring plant operations remotely when he discovered the plant’s generator was running.

Rayome drove to the plant, expecting to find that a routine “power bump” — “when power blinks off then back on,” according to Hammons’ report — had caused the generator to kick in. But his assessment proved “it was more serious than a power bump.”

Rayome summoned crews from Flathead Electric Cooperative, who discovered that a large stick, likely dropped by an osprey seen building a nest in the area, had fallen across powerlines. The stick had caused fuses to blow and power into the plant to diminish.

According to Hammons’ report, electric crews replaced the fuses and restored full power. Soon after, however, Rayome found the main compressor on fire.

“He put out the fire, but not before the compressor motor was destroyed,” Hammons wrote. “The low voltage to the plant most likely contributed to the fire.”

Rayome was unable to start a second backup motor that survived the fire, so he “plumbed in a backup compressor and was able to keep the plant operational,” Hammons wrote.

The following day, Hammons reported the generator’s fuses were replaced and the second motor and compressor were brought back online.

“On Tuesday (May 30), (Plant Manager) Jeff Haugen called the company that sold the city the motor and explained what happened and they are looking into replacing the motor under the warranty,” Hammons wrote, adding that the city’s water supply was not disrupted during the incident.

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