Transmission lines wind through environmentally sensitive areas, and endangered species make their homes in utility poles. As a result, many utility companies and construction crews are required to abide by stringent guidelines. Oftentimes, these rules are designed to minimize the crews' impact on the environment and not disturb the local wildlife.
Over the last year, I've talked to many linemen who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect the land and the wildlife. These linemen have inspired me with their stories about how they've overcome challenges in the field without harming the environment.
This month we're featuring a special story about a line crew at South Carolina Gas & Electric (SCG&E). During a routine pole changeout in Barnwell, South Carolina, a line crew noticed a small nest in a woodpecker cavity in a distribution pole they were about to replace. In the nest were three small white eggs with brown spots. The linemen kept the eggs warm in the truck cab, and then a serviceman took the eggs home with him and kept them warm with a hot water heater.
Efforts were made to find an organization that could take the eggs. However, most of SCE&G's calls were turned away until a call was made to The Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, South Carolina. Over the years, SCE&G has forged a strong relationship with the facility. Like many other utilities, SCE&G places a high value on environmental programs that benefit the birds and animals that live on or near its infrastructure.
This story demonstrates how a line crew can make a difference by taking time to respect and preserve nature. Pressured by a tight work schedule, the linemen could have simply overlooked the eggs and walked away. Instead, they were keys to the birds' survival.
Working Around Wildlife
The stories about linemen helping wildlife, however, don't end there. On many other utility projects, linemen have come across endangered species nesting along easements and near power lines and equipment. Any loud noises or sudden moves could disrupt not only their habitat, but also risk the future of the animal's population.
To protect wildlife, linemen often need to work around animals' nesting schedules, which can be challenging at times. For example, they may have to adjust their work plan to avoid setting poles in a particular area during a certain time. Case in point: on the Black Hills Energy project, the linemen couldn't be within a half mile of an endangered Mexican spotted owl for five months. The crew also discovered a pair of bald eagles along the easement, and as a result, they couldn't disturb the eagles until they left the area. This project, which was featured in our March issue, also described how linemen had to build a new 115-kV line through environmentally sensitive areas.
While it can be challenging for line crews to adjust their project schedules, many have done so successfully. As a result, wildlife has been able to continue living close to utility projects without being placed in harm's way.
Not Leaving a Mark
Along with not disturbing wildlife, linemen must also take care when crossing environmentally sensitive areas. Most linemen rely on heavy, wheeled equipment to get the job done. Rather than rolling their normal trucks and cranes over protected land, however, many field crews are taking an alternate approach. Field crews often drive tracked equipment or find ways to travel to the work site without tearing up the soil.
With a little ingenuity, line crews can access a work site without leaving a trace. For example, Black Hills Energy's field crews couldn't build a road into the job site, make cuts into the side of the mountain, or drive their trucks and equipment over the streams. To overcome all these obstacles and help to prevent erosion, the field crews laid down steel plates or culverts to build temporary bridges.
In other cases, when it's nearly impossible for linemen to cross over mountainous or environmentally sensitive terrain, it's often best for them to rely on helicopters to help to set poles or maintain sections of their transmission system. For example, in the September issue, you'll read about Hydro One, which just celebrated 60 years of commercial helicopter operations.
Preserving and protecting the environment and wildlife can demand flexibility, creativity and hard work, but it pays off. By working closely with their utility's environmental departments and the local protection agencies, linemen can get the job done and minimize their impact on the environment.
Attention readers: How have your field crews helped to protect the wildlife and the environment during projects in the field? Please e-mail your stories and photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.