A family of American kestrels is safely nesting in an American Transmission Co. pole thanks to the keen eye and ingenuity of a construction crew. The birds had settled into a pole partially hollowed out by a woodpecker in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When it came time to replace the pole, the crew ensured that the kestrels’ home didn’t disappear.
ATC partnered with M.J. Electric to replace the wood structures supporting a 138,000-volt line in Richmond Township, Mich., in June. As the crew worked, they checked poles for wildlife. They initially did not notice baby birds nesting in a woodpecker cavity in one of the poles due to the depth of the hole. After the pole was removed, they noticed the birds and knew they needed to call in an expert. The crew consulted with ATC’s avian specialist, Michael Warwick, and came up with a plan. They carefully removed and saved the portion of the pole containing the woodpecker cavity, and they used a bucket truck and cables to attach the saved portion of the old pole to the new pole at roughly the same height.
Shortly after the cavity containing the baby birds was attached to the new pole, the crew noticed one of the adult kestrels entering the nest.
While it is rare for crews to find birds nesting in electric transmission poles, it does happen occasionally. Woodpeckers frequently bore into wood transmission poles to look for insects or make nests, and sometime kestrels or owls make nests in those cavities. Crews are trained to look for wildlife before beginning construction.
Since woodpecker holes can compromise the structural integrity of the poles, ATC recently developed a more efficient and economical way to analyze woodpecker damage and provide recommendations for handling damaged poles. Click here to learn more about that process.
Would you know how to light a match with a hatchet? Do you know how to use a map and a compass to find your way through a forest? Do you know the most important factors if faced with a survival situation?
Those are just some of the skills that the fifth-grade class from Forest Park Elementary School in Crystal Falls, Mich., learned during a recent natural resources education experience, funded in part with scholarships from American Transmission Co. Judging by the thank you notes we received, it’s abundantly clear the students had fun while learning during their three-day stay at Trees for Tomorrow near Eagle River, Wis. Read on for a few memorable experiences.
“We learned how to make fires and what wood to use. First you use tinder wood, then kindling then logs. My team was really fast at getting the fire going and even got the water boiling.” – Abby
“It was really fun lighting the match with a hatchet!” – Skylar
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn Survival 101, in which I learned that you must have a positive mental attitude at all times.” – Gage
“This experience showed me how to survive in the wild. It also taught me to appreciate our forests and make sure they are taken care of.” – Kevin
“I’m really happy that I got to learn how to use a compass! I had no clue how to use a compass before you allowed me to take the lesson in orienteering here.” – Dalaney
“Whoever runs this place and picked who worked here did a really good job!” – Jackson
Trees for Tomorrow was founded in 1944 as a nonprofit organization by a group of Wisconsin paper and electric utility companies with the purpose of reforesting northern Wisconsin and educating the public about proper land management. The organization established an education facility at a former Civilian Conservation Corps training facility in Eagle River, Wis., and use the recovering Northwoods to teach the need for proper forestry practices. The single-focus mission on education began in 1967.
“Trees for Tomorrow has a pretty robust program,” said Todd Miller, senior environmental project manager, who is a member of the organization’s board of directors. “While the educational programs for elementary schools are a major focus, the organization offers experiences for adults via the Road Scholar program. It hosts international students, as well, so the organization has offerings for all age groups and cultures.”
Wisconsin turtle species have a better chance of finding suitable habitat this summer thanks to some new nesting beds in the North Appleton-Morgan Transmission Line Project corridor. Landowners along the North Branch Pensaukee River allowed us, along with M.J. Electric crews and staff from GEI Consultants, to establish the beds made from fine- to medium-grained local sands on their property. The beds are surrounded by a small amount of vegetation to prevent erosion.
“When you have the right habitat, a species in need, available resources and a willing landowner, projects like this just make sense and are in line with ATC’s commitment to the environment” explained Michelle Stokes, manager, environmental.
Some of the species that will benefit include wood, snapping, painted and Blanding’s turtles. When conditions present, ATC has created turtle nesting habitat on other projects with willing landowners.
Construction of the North Appleton-Morgan transmission line is about 78 percent complete.
Consultant Environmental Project Manager Crystal Koles says she was initially drawn to American Transmission Co. because the company’s values align with her own.
“ATC has a very strong environmental commitment. That was important to me. I needed to work for a company that really did what they said they were going to do in terms of environmental protection,” Koles said.
After more than 10 years with ATC, she says she’s proud to work for a company that cares. In her role, Koles helps ATC protect the environment as ATC plans, builds and maintains the electric transmission grid. She spends time in the field to ensure that compatible plants are growing and the environment is healthy in ATC’s rights-of-way.
“The field is really where my heart lies. I love going out, especially post-construction. How does that right-of-way look when we’re done? How does that substation look?” she said. “A lot of times, I think it looks better post-construction.”
In addition to environmental responsibility, community involvement is also very important to Koles. She volunteers regularly with Service League of Green Bay to help children in need.
“ATC has supported that organization financially through our corporate giving program and, perhaps even more importantly, is the time,” Koles said. “ATC offers time off to our employees and encourages our community participation.”
Koles says her success at ATC is derived, in part, from the flexibility offered for community and family involvement.
“When it comes to work-life balance, ATC definitely walks the talk,” she said. “I am able to be with my family when I need to be, when I want to be. I have the flexibility, and I can still perform well in my job. That is a huge part of my job satisfaction.”
As for what’s next, Koles says she sees herself with ATC for the rest of her career.
“I think that there are opportunities for me, there’s growth potential for me. I’ve been here for 10 years and loving my job, and I don’t see any dead-ends or glass ceilings.”
If you are interested in joining Koles and the rest of the ATC team, browse our open positions.
During the spring semester of 2018, American Transmission Co. teamed up with students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to complete a challenging design engineering project.
The engineering students were asked to design the site and foundation for an existing ATC substation. To mimic a real ATC project, students were given design criteria to complete, including site design layout, storm water management, erosion control, structure and foundation design.
“The project complimented my studies in that it enforced my ability to apply what we learned in our classes,” said Nick Rankin, a UW-Platteville engineering student who completed the project. “From referencing manuals of practice to applying our knowledge of software, this project encompassed every skill we learned. It gave us insight into how actual site design works. Being exposed to drawings that we were given on day one and the design work we completed as students will ready us for much bigger things when we break into real-world applications.”
“The students did an excellent job with the project and came close to the site layout that ATC actually built. They exceeded our expectations in many ways,” said Travis Oates, ATC team leader of civil design engineering.
Oates led the project on behalf of ATC with help from Jim Zhong, senior transmission line engineer; Brian Penny, consultant substation services engineer; Cris Kramschuster, senior substation services engineer; Mike Londo, consultant transmission reliability administrator; Jay Johannes, senior substation engineer; Tam Vo, team leader of design engineering; and Curtis Roe, senior planning compliance engineer.
Along with opportunities for employees to mentor future engineers, the project gave the students a window into the electric transmission industry. Students also visited an ATC operations facility and a substation during the project.
“We got exposure to the university to promote ATC as an employer. If these students go on to work for other agencies such as the Department of Transportation, municipalities, developers, etc., they will come across utilities in their projects. With this experience, they now understand the impacts and will take them into consideration,” Oates said.
ATC is proud to provide real-world opportunities to students and build knowledge of our industry in the community. Along with support for projects like this one, we regularly hire interns in many departments to share our expertise and learn from new perspectives.