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A Hole in One and a Birdie

Staying ahead of wind, weather, and wildlife damage is no game for UCEMC crews in Gainesboro  

Year round, UCEMC crews battle the elements to keep the power surging through the lines to more than 50,000 members. When we’re advised to stay safe in our homes and hunker down during a storm, Upper Cumberland’s linemen are working around the clock in high winds and driving rain to repair downed lines. But severe storms are just part of what Mother Nature can dish out to threaten the power supply; as our Gainesboro district office team knows all too well.

A Hole In One and A BirdieGainesboro District Manager Chris Saling points to the break in a pole weakened by Woodpecker damage.The UCEMC Right-of-Way crews were trimming vegetation near the steep bank just off North Grundy in mid-July when they noticed a pole that appeared to be cracked and leaning – almost ready to snap in two! This compromised pole supports lines over Roaring River Crossing. If it should go down, more than 1,000 members would be dealing with an outage - and this time – it would have nothing to do with the weather.

“This damaged pole is up on a hillside, on a bluff, with a line span of about 900 feet going across the river,” Gainesboro District Office Manager Chris Saling explains. “At first, we thought perhaps the high winds whipping this vast expansion caused the pole to break, but when the ground dried and we were able to inspect it more closely, we learned exactly why this pole had been weakened.”

A Hole In One and A BirdieSeveral holes in one pole can mean trouble down the line for UCEMC. This time, the problem wasn’t caused by a storm. It was trouble on-the-wing: Woodpeckers. And just as Tennesseans love their corn on the cob in the summertime, these birds seem to “love them” some wooden power poles when they feel a little puckish.

“We’ve been filling up the holes on this pole as quickly as the Woodpeckers have made them, but these birds are relentless,” Chris says. “As soon as we filled one, they made another hole within a few inches of it on the other side. It’s like playing a bad game of Whack-A-Mole!”

Time was of the essence. Chris and his crew knew that the damaged pole could snap at any moment, sending power lines into the river below.

A Hole In One and A BirdieWoodpecker - A Hole In One and A BirdieFor now it seems, the final score is UCEMC- 1, Woodpeckers -0.“I was sweating it there for a couple of weeks as we waited for the rain to stop and allow us to get a truck up on that bluff. Once we were able to safely do that, we set a temporary support pole to prevent it from falling.”

There was only one permanent solution available to Chris and the crew; a 33 hundred pound solid steel pole which would challenge the most determined Woodpecker out there.

Setting that heavy pole, in solid rock, on a slick, red-clay bluff, was a daunting task, but once the rain stopped, the UCEMC crew had the new steel structure set and the wires on within a few days.

“We have a structure in place now that will be there for another 35-40 years even with the Woodpeckers giving it their best shot,” Chris says.

“We want to find these problems and take corrective action before they occur in the middle of the night, cause power outages, and are more costly and more difficult to repair.”

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