A SABOTAGE attack on Scotland's Falkirk Wheel revolving boat lift, is expected to force cancellation of next week's planned opening.
The 'premeditated' night time operation to break open nearby lock gates released millions of litres of canal water, inundating the £20M structure and causing around £100,000 damage to sensitive control equipment.
An urgent site security review could result in additional secretive deterrent measures. Engineers are working round the clock to assess repairs needed to £600,000 worth of waterlogged electronic and hydraulic circuits.
'The structure remains sound, but this was a planned criminal act by people who clearly knew what they were doing and must have checked out the site beforehand, ' said George Ballinger, chief civil engineer for owner British Waterways Scotland.
'Damage is significant, but I am optimistic we can still make the later official opening by the Queen next month.'
The Falkirk Wheel is the world's first revolving boat lift. It links the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal 35m beneath it, forming the focal point of British Waterways' Millennium Link waterway.
A flight of two, just completed and heavily padlocked locks on the upper canal controls water flow through a tunnel and on to a 104m long concrete aqueduct, with the wheel at its end (NCE project study 18 April).
At 1am last Thursday, five padlocks were cut to open lock gates and sluices, releasing an estimated 82M litres of water from the Union Canal before the incident was discovered four hours later.
Water cascaded along the aqueduct, down a 250mm wide gap between its end and the wheel to drop through grilles and open hatches, inundating a five level control room beneath.
It also poured down 25m high aqueduct embankments, filling the lower basin with silt laden water and partially submerging an electric substation.
'No equipment, however robust, can sustain this degree of inundation without experiencing significant problems, ' said Colin Castledine, director with Butterley, the wheel's designer, fabricator and erector. 'But we are hopeful most will dry out and survive.'
Computerised water level monitors, still being commissioned, had registered the surge seconds after the locks were opened. But control panels were not manned and alarms for just such an event are not yet connected.
Closed circuit television cameras, being installed beside the locks, do not include night vision.
'This sort of incident could never occur when the wheel is operational as our permanently manned equipment will detect just 1mm water rises, ' said Ballinger. 'But we are now looking at added security devices as further deterrents.'
INFOPLUS www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine