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Line removal means new line of thinking
10/25/2013 12:00 AM
Imagine a builder tasked with taking things apart, or an engineer called upon to do disassembly. Picture a project that presses the rewind button on a view -- reversing it to a natural state. For the first time in three decades, Bonneville Power Administration contractors dismantled and removed two 115-kilovolt transmission lines in Portland, Ore., that were no longer in use and posed a safety risk to the public.
“Knowing what to do was the biggest challenge,” said BPA project manager Chad Hamel. “Initially we thought it would be easy because there wasn’t a lot of design involved.”
But Hamel quickly discovered the project would be more complicated than he first thought. There was no template or standard procedure to follow. The agency would need to hire a contractor and create the specifications for the line removal. This all added up to a big challenge for an agency more familiar with building than deconstructing.
“When we build a line, we build roads,” Hamel said. “But in this case, we weren’t building roads. We didn’t need to build roads. How do we create this very small impact and, at the end of the day, just make it look how it looked say 70 years ago when it was originally built.”
The lines were installed in the 1940s to provide power to factories and mills in the industrial district along the Portland waterfront. They served only one customer, the ATOFINA Chemicals plant, when BPA acquired the second 115-kV line in 1982. When the plant closed in 2002, the line became obsolete. The longest portion of both lines was the Keeler-Pennwalt, which ran through Northwest Portland’s popular Forest Park. The City of Portland Parks and Recreation Dept. is responsible for protecting and managing Forest Park as an urban wilderness area. The park has served as a recreational and environmental resource for generations of Portlanders.
It took about 20 workers to dismantle the five-mile section of line through the park. The aging and rotting wood poles would eventually collapse under their own weight, presenting a safety risk to park visitors.
“Our City Nature Division, which has purvey over Forest Park, extends their thanks to BPA for being an excellent partner,” said Mark Ross, spokesman for Portland Parks and Recreation. “BPA has followed the parameters and requirements which have allowed the parks department to further our goals of natural area stewardship and minimal impacts to Forest Park.”
The line also runs through suburban residential areas and parks managed by Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District. BPA contractor Michels Construction took great care to make disturbance to the area as minimal as possible. Mats were used to prevent tire ruts and other measures helped the crew reduce its impact on the site. Afterward, the only evidence that poles had existed was the grey dots on the ground where the once stood. Seed and sand covered the holes.
Easements were another challenge. In Forest Park, BPA inherited the line from Portland General Electric; that agreement said that once the poles were gone the easement ceased to exist. So BPA’s Real Property Services, the group responsible for obtaining and overseeing easements, is still trying to figure out how to provide an official release of the easement for the City of Portland and other property owners. Hamel was getting a few phone calls a day, spending a lot of time working with land owners to direct them to the right BPA staff to answer easement questions. The key, Hamel says, is having the contractor be in direct communication with individual land owners.
It’s a rare occasion when BPA gives up an easement. It’s equally rare to see less, rather than more, at the end of a construction project.
More line removal projects are on tap. No two are the same – each has a special set of circumstances. Next time, however, the team will do more research beforehand on land rights and what happens to those rights once the structures are removed.
“If it was easy, the lines would have been removed already,” said Hamel.
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