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Blog | American Transmission Co. - Part 4

Notes from the field – Discoveries in Wisconsin’s desert

American Transmission Co. environmental project managers traverse hills and countryside monitoring construction activities year-round. They are the eyes and ears in the field, working with contractors to ensure that we demonstrate our environmental commitment.

Our Notes from the Field blog features highlights of what our environmental project managers see while they work on projects throughout our service area. This installment features photos and observations from Michael Warwick, ATC senior environmental project manager.

Western Wisconsin

The driftless area. A vast chunk of Wisconsin that the glaciers missed, so many years ago. The lack of glaciation means the western part of our state looks incredibly different from the east, and those differences are plentiful. While the eastern portion of the state is relatively flat with numerous lakes, the west is covered in wooded hills and dry, rocky bluffs. Parts of the driftless area are often called “Wisconsin’s desert,” due to the vast swaths of sandy soils, dry microclimate and prickly-pear cactus scattered about.

These differences mean that western Wisconsin provides an incredible amount of habitat variation for species that depend on the habitats described above. Because of its unique qualities, this city-based nature nerd gets excited whenever a new transmission project means a visit to another area of the state that I’ve never previously explored.

I was recently assigned a project on a transmission line in an area that is about as far west as one can travel in the state without hitting the Mississippi. Almost immediately after being assigned to this project, substantial late-winter flooding resulted in the emergency replacement of a wood pole on the same line. The pole was replaced temporarily, with the intent that a permanent fix would take place later, once floodwaters had receded to make construction more accessible.

On May 14, a beautiful, 70-degree Wisconsin spring day, I set out west to visit portions of the project. My goal was to assess the possible habitat associated with each location, and determine which, if any, resources would be impacted by our work. On the way back, I planned to visit another project currently under construction, one as complex environmentally as any I’ve worked on, to check on protective matting removal and restoration efforts.

But first, I had a stop to make. Just three minutes down the road from the western portion of the project exists a site known to have several species of snake that I’ve never had the luck of observing in the wild. Last year, I made the five-hour roundtrip drive to this site on a Saturday in June, family reluctantly in tow, on quite possibly the worst possible day for this kind of thing; a 95-degree, obscenely humid, awfully mosquito-filled day. We found nothing. The whole day was a bust, and the family, irritable.

This time, I would not be denied. The weather was perfect, and I would find my Holy Grail. Within five minutes at the site, as I glanced off to my left at a flat outcrop, there they were. Two large, adult timber rattlesnakes.

I kept my distance, but it didn’t take long for them to consider me at least a minor annoyance. They rattled their tails at me … a warning to give them their space … as they slithered away to find refuge in their rock crevices. As I leaned in to take photos while they made their exit, I almost didn’t notice another, much smaller critter at my feet, hidden among the grays and tans of last season’s fallen leaves.

Another timber rattler, this one a juvenile. Likely born late last summer, as evidenced by its small size and the tiny button at the tip of its tail, not old enough to have developed a rattle. It laid perfectly still, hoping I would finish what I was doing and move on. After snapping numerous photos from various angles, I did just that. My day had been made! I was lucky enough to have witnessed three individuals of a species I have never seen in the wild in all my 41 years, despite actively seeking them out. It was only 10 a.m., and I had the rest of the day ahead of me.


Michael Warwick is a senior environmental project manager at ATC. Prior to joining ATC he worked as an environmental consultant conducting tree and plant surveys, wetland delineation, GIS, project planning, community planning and permitting. He previously worked at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with a focus on waterway monitoring and studies, and wetland and waterway permit reviews.

Michael earned a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation and environmental sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is currently certified by Wisconsin DNR as an Endangered Resources Reviewer and is a member of the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) Outreach Committee. He volunteers his time guiding annual natural resources-based educational field trips for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

ATC employees help Fairview School with STEM projects

American Transmission Co. employee volunteers recently worked with students at Fairview School in Milwaukee Public Schools on two science technology engineering and math projects. Employees volunteered in the classroom and ATC provided supplies to support the projects during an ATC STEM Day of Caring.

Fairview students in grades two through four designed and built carriers that each hold a raw egg. The assignment was to make a carrier that could keep the egg intact when it was dropped two stories. ATC volunteers helped them design and build the project. On testing day, most eggs survived the fall while the excited students watched from the ground as each project was dropped. A few eggs even rolled out of their containers!

Seventh grade students designed blades for a wind turbine and tested them. ATC volunteers with engineering skills provided feedback while students researched their designs and helped some students start the building process. Each team prepared two designs, one for speed and one for torque.

“I think overall as students worked in teams to design and test solutions, they were empowered to develop solutions to problems in real time. They also had to focus on skills like collaboration, critical thinking and communication to create a successful prototype,” said Fairview teacher, Jason Floyd.

Our volunteers were impressed by the creativity and ingenuity of the students. They were exploring different materials and experimenting with different techniques. And best of all, they were learning and applying their skills in new ways.

We are so grateful for our time spent sharing STEM ideas with Fairview students. We learn from them at least as much as they learn from us.

ATC employees share lessons learned from military service

At American Transmission Co., our employees are the heart of our organization, and we are proud that many of them represent the American military population. In honor of Military Appreciation Month, we would like to thank our veteran employees not only for what they do for ATC, but also for what they have done for our nation.

Around 10 percent of ATC employees have military experience and they are an important part of our workforce. They bring unique skills and strengths including leadership, honesty, strategic thinking, camaraderie and teamwork.

To help us recognize and honor ATC employees who have served, we asked them to share how they’ve applied their military training and skills to their work at ATC. Here are some of their responses.

Duane, U.S. Navy:

“Amongst many, many things I learned, one that I’ll always remember came from my first commanding officer aboard the submarine I was assigned to, USS Simon Bolivar. He taught me that another person’s perception of me is their reality, it’s based on what they see and hear. If I think their perception about me is wrong, I need to do something to change that perception and not simply complain about it.”

Luella, Army National Guard:

“A simple plan executed well is better than an excellent plan executed poorly or not carried out.”

“If you have a problem to solve, start by getting input from the people closest to the work.”

“Be decisive, and when you make a decision, own it. If you made a mistake, own up to it.”

 Dennis, U.S. Navy:  

“I would have to say the biggest thing I learned while in the Navy, other than how to properly mop, wax, and buff the floor, was how to deal with a variety of different people from different backgrounds. You have to learn to be tolerant of others’ thoughts and beliefs, and in some cases deal with some very challenging personalities.”

John, U.S. Air Force:

“People first, mission always. It’s important to get to know your people, treat them consistently, help them develop and work with them to remove roadblocks that get in the way of them doing their jobs.”

Matthew, U.S. Marine Corps:

“While going through Marine Corps Infantry Training School, I remember our first night patrol where we expected to be ambushed so that we could implement our combat skills to effectively respond to our armed combatants. The lead infantry instructor said to us as were getting ready to move out, ‘Marines, you need to proceed on this mission with slow movement to contact, we are not rushing to our deaths; we are here to win.’

“The lesson I learned from “slow movement to contact” was that as you venture into an unknown environment or in the case stated above of a simulated fire-fight, you need to as Wyatt Earp liked to state, ‘learn to be slow in a hurry.’

“Earp was referencing how to succeed in an old west gun-fight, which was applicable to a young 19-year-old Private First Class Rifleman when I was going through ITS almost 38 years ago.

“Being “slow in hurry” is a lesson that I have leveraged throughout my life, whether it is as an individual contributor, parenting our kids through their maturation with my wife, or in leadership positions where you have to guide your team through challenging times. It doesn’t mean lollygagging through life, it means you need to be disciplined, consistent and resilient so that you can be the calm at the center of the storm during tough times.”

ATC, Milwaukee Bucks celebrate third year of Trees for Threes program

In culmination of this season’s Trees for Threes program, American Transmission Co. and the Milwaukee Bucks planted four trees May 14 at Milwaukee Public Schools’ Milwaukee School of Languages. The four trees are part of the 573 trees that will be planted at schools across the state.

The 573 trees were donated by ATC through the Trees for Threes program, which is in its third season. One tree was donated for every three-pointer the Bucks made at Fiserv Forum during the regular season.

Milwaukee School of Languages students who achieved high attendance rates were guests at the event and helped plant the trees, which were locally-sourced from Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls.

A total of 259 schools across the state will receive a combined total of 573 trees. Since the program began in 2016, ATC has donated 1,271 trees throughout Wisconsin. Click here more information about the program, or to see a full list of the 259 schools.

A photo gallery from the event can be viewed below.

Employees celebrate Mother’s Day at Women Build

American Transmission Co. sponsored a team during National Women Build Week to help Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County build affordable housing to support the community.

On Saturday, May 11, nine employee volunteers, including two mother and daughter teams who volunteered together in celebration of Mother’s Day, helped another mother build her new home.

Habitat is building the home for single mom Dawn, her daughter Courtney, who is in college and the National Guard, and her 9-year-old daughter Myah, who has severe special needs. The home is the first ranch-style home Waukesha’s Habitat has built, and will include special accommodations for Myah such as wider doorways for her wheelchair and a lift to help her use the bathtub safely.

The ATC team built and raised three exterior walls for the project. The project will continue throughout the summer and fall. It is expected that Dawn and her family will be able to move in before the end of the year.

Click here to learn more and watch a video about the project by Milwaukee’s WTMJ news.

A photo gallery of the event is also located below.