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ATC grants help Ledgeview and Stevens Point increase pollinator habitat

The town of Ledgeview, Wis., and the North Central Conservancy Trust are welcoming bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinators to sections of the East and Wisconsin rivers thanks to American Transmission Co.’s Pollinator Habitat Program.

Roughly 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators. Part of the reason for the recent decline in pollinator populations is due to loss of habitat, so efforts to restore pollinator habitat like these projects are critical to current and future pollinator health.

Restoring Bukolt Island with over 2,000 native species

Situated in the middle of the Wisconsin River on the western edge of Stevens Point is the two-acre Bukolt Island. Purchased in 2019 by the North Central Conservancy Trust, nearly half of the island is now home to an emerging pollinator habitat.

In late 2021, the NCCT received a grant from ATC, which owns the power lines running through the island. The NCCT also received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to support pollinator habitat on Bukolt Island.

In late May, over 50 local volunteers crossed the water and joined the NCCT in planting over 2,000 native species to create a pollinator habitat on the island.

“This is really done to protect that landscape,” NCCT Executive Director Chris Radford told WSAW-TV CBS 7 in an interview. “We want to protect the ecosystems that are associated with it, make it accessible for the public, and steward it as best we can for the benefit of our native flora and fauna.”

In addition to supporting pollinators, the new plants will also be beneficial for the river by helping prevent erosion and eliminating invasive species.

Ledgeview adds to pollinator habitat in popular park

On June 27, employees from the town of Ledgeview and members of the local Pheasants Forever Chapter, with assistance from Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, added to pollinator habitat in Ledgeview Park near the Winding Waters entrance to the popular East River Trail, a six-mile hiking and biking trail along the East River.

A grant from ATC provided the funding to bring native pollinator plantings to the pollinator habitat in the park, which is located under an ATC electric transmission line. This is the second year in a row Ledgeview has been awarded a grant. Last summer crews planted nearly 1,000 native forbs on a plot near the northern part of the property.

Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, a local nursery located in Ledgeview that specializes in native species, was brought on to provide guidance with the grant administration and creating the 8,600-square-foot habitat.

“Native plants are low-maintenance options to help pollinators and our ecosystems. Using plants native to our area is better for the bees, birds and butterflies,” Justin Kroening, owner of Stone Silo Prairie Gardens told WLUK-TV Fox 11 in an interview. “These plants are very adaptable to dry conditions, they have large tap roots which go way down into the soil, and that’s also really good for soil, and that’s good for water filtration, and it’s good for erosion control and things of that nature.”

In addition to supporting pollinators, the habitat will also help mitigate stormwater runoff into the East River.

ATC accepting grant applications until Sept. 30

ATC’s Pollinator Habitat Program promotes planting low-growing vegetation within transmission line rights-of-way to beautify communities in a way that doesn’t compromise the safety and reliability of the electric transmission system.

ATC accepts applications from June 1 through Sept. 30, and award recipients are selected and notified by the end of the year. Awards range from $100 to $5,000. Additional information and program applications can be found at atc-GrowSmart.com.

National Intern Day Spotlight: ATC participates in Intern Day of Action

On July 19, ATC interns participated in the United Way Intern Day of Action. The event featured interns from companies across the Milwaukee and Waukesha area who teamed up to lend their hands to causes in the community. Twelve ATC interns were assigned a volunteer activity at Waukesha County Park System’s Minooka Park. 

The interns’ project was located in an area of the park where staff are trying to restore trees, which Park Foreman Aaron Hernandez said were lost to emerald ash borer. EABs are “an invasive, wood-boring beetle that kills ash trees by eating the tissues under the bark,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. To combat damage to trees as a result of EABs, Minooka Park has planted pine tree saplings in native prairie restoration areas. ATC interns were tasked with spreading mulch around the trees to protect the saplings. 

Minooka Park, a farm until the mid-1900s, is 579 acres and features old growth forest areas which are home to many varieties of birds and native species. Though it was a warm day in Waukesha, with temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, our interns were happy to give their time to Minooka Park and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County. Thank you to those who participated for demonstrating how we care for our community and happy National Intern Day to the leaders of tomorrow!

Aerial patrol ‘eyes in the sky’ check on facilities, vegetation

Aerial helicopter patrols are a valuable tool that American Transmission Co. deploys to periodically inspect our transmission lines.

Riding shotgun next to the pilot is the patrol inspector, who looks out of the helicopter and records information into a tablet. That information is downloaded into a database that allows ATC to determine needs and priorities, and process maintenance work orders.

Patrol inspectors need to pay close attention to details and to be very aware of their surroundings – watching for wires, antennas and other objects that could be hazardous. Their job requires specific qualifications and ongoing training to be both safe and effective.

“Aerial patrols remain a key tool to monitor our transmission lines and capture the areas that we need to address for both transmission line maintenance and vegetation management,” said Michelle Stokes, manager of transmission line maintenance and vegetation management.

In spring, patrol inspectors look for any areas of concern or deficiencies to the system following winter to help ATC take corrective action before summer’s heavy power use and storms. Aerial patrols will identify items to be addressed like split pole tops, broken conductor strands, washouts near structures and leaning trees.

In the summer, when vegetation has grown and leafed out, patrol inspectors look for any hazard trees or areas that the vegetation management team needs to address.

“The number of issues identified during aerial patrols has declined over the past five years, mainly due to our work to reclaim the rights-of-way,” said Stokes. “At the same time, it’s allowed us to monitor the extent of the spread and impact of emerald ash borer across our footprint. This insect is wreaking havoc on ash trees and increasing the number of hazard trees we need to assess – and potentially remove – along our rights-of-way.”

In the fall, patrol inspectors will also cover portions of the transmission system impacted by summer weather events or areas of critical facilities. This provides ATC time to address any significant issues before the risk of extreme cold weather sets in.

While drones have been considered for aerial patrols, the human “eyes in the sky” aboard a helicopter still offer the most economical option for comprehensive annual inspections. Drones can be a suitable tool when ATC needs detailed, targeted inspections. However, when it comes to analyzing, determining and communicating which system elements need our attention, people still do it best.

Transformer installed for Darien and Paris Solar Network Upgrade Project

Construction of the Darien and Paris Solar Network Upgrade Project is advancing in Kenosha County. The project will support the proposed Darien Solar Energy Center in Rock and Walworth counties and the Paris Solar-Battery Park in Kenosha County.

Recently, the new 345,000-volt/138,000-volt transformer was delivered and installed. Using the transformer to connect two adjacent transmission lines of different voltages will allow for increased power transfers without the need to build additional transmission lines.

The transformer traveled over 825 miles from the rail yard at the Hyundai factory in Montgomery, Ala., to the Canadian Pacific rail yard in Sturtevant, Wis. An eight-person Van Dyke Bros Inc. crew from Chandler, Minn., spent most of June 8 carefully transferring the transformer to a specially equipped semitruck trailer.

After a Wisconsin Department of Transportation safety inspection on June 9, the transformer traveled the seven miles from the rail yard to the Paris Substation near Union Grove, Wis. The accompanying convoy included several Wisconsin State Troopers and their vehicles, Van Dyke’s remaining six semi-trailers and two bucket trucks that lifted distribution and cable lines crossing the roads out of the way to allow the transformer to pass underneath.

On June 10, the Van Dyke crew used large hydraulic lifts to remove the 200-ton transformer from the trailer so it could slide onto the concrete platform that is its permanent home. Their eight-person crew moves 30-40 transformers annually throughout the United States.

“There is no room for error when placing a transformer,” said ATC Senior Construction Manager Jim Huckstorf. “It needs to be placed as close to the middle of the concrete platform as possible. It’s a long, slow and careful process.”

To slide the transformer onto the concrete pad, the crew laid down special steel rails, using wood cribbing and steel plates to continually adjust the steel rail height and support the transformer as it moves. The crew continually measured and used a level throughout the process.

Once the steel rails were in place, a power pack generator slowly pushed the transformer across the steel rails into position. When the transformer was in the right position, four hydraulic lifts were set under each of the transformer’s corners and lifted the transformer off the concrete pad about a foot. The crew then removed the steel rails and wood cribbing before lowering the transformer into place. The hydraulic lifts also helped the crew make any minor adjustments to the transformer’s position on the concrete pad.

After the transformer was put in place, Hyundai’s assembly crew began installing the 24 radiators, reservoir tank and pipes. Before it can be operational, the transformer will be filled with 19,400 gallons (about the volume of a one car garage) of dielectric oil and tested. Once assembled and filled, the transformer will stand nearly 28 feet tall and weigh over 300 tons (about what a Boeing 747 weighs).

The control house is scheduled to be delivered mid-July and the project is expected to be in service in December. The 310MW Paris Solar-Battery Park is expected to be complete by the end of 2023. We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service and Madison Gas and Electric have also filed an application with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to acquire the 325MW Darien Solar Energy Center. WEC Energy Group utilities We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service would own 90 percent of the two renewable energy projects. Madison Gas and Electric would own the other 10 percent.

ATC, Milwaukee Bucks team up to donate record 579 trees through Trees for Threes program

American Transmission Co. donated 579 trees – equal to the number of three-point shots the Milwaukee Bucks made at Fiserv Forum during the 2021-22 regular season – to 180 Wisconsin schools that registered for the 2021-22 Trees for Threes program. The program calls for ATC to donate one tree for every three-pointer the Bucks make at home during the regular season.

To celebrate the culmination of the sixth year of the Trees for Threes program, ATC and the Bucks held a tree planting ceremony at Milwaukee Academy of Science on May 31. Second-grade students from Milwaukee Academy of Science planted three trees the school received from the program. Bucks Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Arvind Gopalratnam, ATC Vice President of External Affairs and Communications Greg Levesque, and Milwaukee Academy of Science Chief Executive Officer Anthony McHenry also made remarks.

“Congratulations to the Bucks on a record-breaking season of three-pointers,” said Levesque. “Our partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Trees for Threes program continues to be a win for local schools and the environment. ATC supports initiatives that have a positive impact on the environment, education and health and well-being to help strengthen the communities in our service area. Planting trees at schools aligns well with these initiatives and can be a valuable lesson for students.”

The Bucks’ 579 threes made at Fiserv Forum this season marked a new franchise record for three-pointers made in a season at home. Milwaukee’s 579 threes made at home were also the most by any team in the Eastern Conference. The 579 trees were donated to a total of 180 schools in 42 counties across Wisconsin. In six seasons of the Trees for Threes initiative, the Bucks and ATC have teamed up to donate more than 2,900 trees to help make Wisconsin greener.