THE DALLES, Oregon – – Sturgeon Electric Company, Inc. (Sturgeon Electric) recently made a little piece of history in the Pacific Northwest when they used Human External Cargo (HEC) helicopter methods to successfully perform transmission line work for Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).
Sturgeon Electric installed 23 aviation marker balls and associated hardware atop BPA’s Big Eddy-Knight 500kV transmission line, which crosses the Columbia River Gorge near The Dalles, Oregon. It was the first time the federal nonprofit agency allowed a transmission line contractor to use (Class B) HEC, which includes flying line workers below a helicopter in an “air chair.”
“When we heard the project was being released, it was something we really wanted to go after because it was a great opportunity to do something for BPA that no other contractor had done before,” said Sturgeon Electric Regional Vice President Mindie McIff.
The construction team, based out of Sturgeon Electric’s Troutdale, Oregon office, devoted considerable time and effort to pre-planning the project from the moment the request for a proposal was received. “We reviewed the job in great detail, analyzed the risks, and submitted a comprehensive technical proposal to BPA,” said Sturgeon Electric District Manager Michael Lambert.
Adding HEC to their tool kit in the Cascadia region will enable Sturgeon Electric to better serve BPA’s needs in the future. “This really broadens our scope of work in the region,” noted Sturgeon Electric Construction Manager Shawn Forsmann.
Fatigue and accidents associated with line workers climbing structures or mobilizing heavy equipment in mountainous terrain are two areas in which helicopter work is advantageous over traditional methods.
“In my opinion, long lining is a faster, more efficient, environmentally friendlier, and safer way to perform certain aspects of line construction and maintenance,” said Sturgeon Electric Superintendent Brady Moore.
“After you become airborne, you don’t really think about being under the bird,” remarked James Lake, one of Sturgeon Electric’s more seasoned flying linemen. “The key to it is maintaining constant communication between yourself and the pilots through hand, head and voice commands so that you’re able to stay in a good working position while you complete the work.”
“We have a helicopter group that we’ve worked with for quite a while. We know what they’re capable of. They’re very experienced and very talented,” remarked Forsmann.
All the pre-planning that went into the project paid off with the speedy, one week installation of red, orange and white markers along with vibration dampers.
“We had the right people on the job, the right helicopter subcontractor to do the work and got the job done safely within the outage frame,” said McIff. “I couldn’t be happier.”
“Safety is a key concern for us on every project, and we appreciate that this complex and delicate operation was executed without injury or incident,” said Mike Miller, the vice president of Engineering and Technical Services for the Bonneville Power Administration.
“We appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with BPA on this project and are hopeful that we can build on this record of success in the future,” said Sturgeon Electric Project Manager Scott Bingham.