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Ashe-Marion emergency work offers human cargo, Sno-Cats and safety moments
3/8/2017 12:00 AM
During emergency work on the Ashe-Marion line, contract linemen ride the two-seat human external cargo equipment to hover just inches from the line. BPA is considering how it can add this option to the agency’s skill set.
While most BPA employees consider a plane, train or automobile to reach their place of work, our Transmission Line Maintenance crews add hiking, aerial buckets, Sno-Cats and helicopters to the list. But no matter the mode of transportation, BPA crews always make it to their final destination to ensure we keep the lights on.
Among their latest hard-to-reach job sites was the Ashe-Marion No.2 transmission line above Blister Creek near Oregon’s Bagby Hot Springs.
While snowflakes piled upon an existing 4 feet of powder, the Salem TLM crew cut and cleared fallen trees from the access road and drove Sno-Cats several miles into Mt. Hood National Forest.
Their investigation found damage to hardware and broken sub conductor spanning 1,800 feet. Detached, loose conductor from the top phase had fallen and had wrapped itself around the lower conductor. The entanglement was the result of implosive sleeves, a device that holds together steel conductor that is wrapped in aluminum.
The safeties that were installed by the human external cargo crew allowed BPA to put a spacer cart on the wire without worry of the remaining sleeves, which look like football-shaped aluminum fittings, breaking.
“After consulting with BPA engineering and technical services, we determined it was unsafe to work from the conductor until the remaining sleeves were secured and made safe,” says Foreman III Nate Ward, TLM Salem.
By using a combination of bolted grips, blocks and hoists, BPA technical services and crew could keep the damaged sleeves from failing. To reach the line, suspended above a stream and at heights too tall for a bucket truck, the agency called on contractors from MYR Group to use a helicopter fitted with human external cargo equipment.
The HEC equipment allows trained linemen to ride a two-seat invention that is reminiscent of a ski chairlift allowing workers to hover inches from the line to replace the sleeves.
Once the sleeve safeties were in place, TLM Ross, Chehalis, Olympia and The Dalles joined the Salem crews with the help of a BPA helicopter to place a spacer cart, a means of moving along conductor. BPA linemen rappelled from the cart to reach the bottom conductor and used wire cutters to remove the pieces knotted by the fallen line.
A snow-dusted safety moment
The crews also had an unexpected challenge: The road they built to reach the transmission right-of-way was a bit too appealing to weekend visitors headed to local attractions, such as Bagby Hot Springs.
Bonneville employees blocked the path with a “road closed” sign yet crews found it wasn’t enough of a deterrent for determined hot-spring goers. Ward recalls finding several stranded cars with drivers, some who considered walking several miles to their final destination.
Instead, BPA employees pulled out trapped vehicles and helped the drivers return to the main road. To prevent further incidents, BPA parked a bulldozer near the “road closed” signage and the U.S. Forest Service provided a guard for the entry point.
“It was almost three straight weeks of long days battling snow storms and difficult rigging scenarios,” says Ward.
January 26, the crews’ repairs had Ashe-Marion back in service at two-thirds capacity until a permanent fix could be made.
James Beasley, BPA contractor oversight safety manager, was involved with flight operations.
"Overall it was a fantastic operation,” says Beasley. “We had Aircraft Services as well as folks from the warehouse who brought needed items and on a Saturday no less.”
For a job that often requires several weeks, Jeff Flansburg, from Engineering and Technical Services, turned around a contract in a matter of hours to help move the project along and get the lights back on.
“Jeff did an amazing job in that from the time that his group received word about the critical project, they were able to put together a plan in under a day. I believe in about 10 hours; truly amazing.”
Ward says line crews demonstrated their expertise in rigging, fall protection, rope access and the ability to make a very dangerous situation safe and workable.
“It’s situations like these that set BPA crews apart from other utilities in the industry,” says Ward. “Thank you all for your hard work and dedication to safety and a reliable power system.”
The experience also reinforced the benefit of adding the human external cargo method to BPA’s repertoire of emergency and regular maintenance services.
The work practice and equipment is within grasp, according to Ward. BPA is already looking at adding human external cargo equipment to “Long Line Short Haul” training, and incorporating the practice into BPA’s business. By doing this service in-house, BPA crews could broaden their skills, shorten response time for emergency work and save the agency money.
“Bonneville personnel worked seamlessly and without hesitation with our contractors to provide a safe and effective project,” says Beasley. “A lot of moving pieces but the foremost priority was safety.”
Conductor is made of steel and wrapped in aluminum wire. When the Ashe-Marion top line broke, it expanded, fell and hit the bottom conductor, tangling both lines. Bonneville linemen used wire cutters to release the conductor.
In addition to the MYR Group contract crew and BPA Safety staff, workers from Salem as well as Vancouver, Chehalis and Olympia, Washington, take a break to celebrate a job well done restoring power to the Ashe-Marion No. 2 transmission Line.
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