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Summer 2017

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Jake Owens, equipment operator II, guides Joseph Gadson, construction crew supervisor, as he guides an excavator onto a trailer along the west dike on Lake Moultrie in preparation to ship the large equipment to Conway.
Jake Owens, equipment operator II, guides Joseph Gadson, construction crew supervisor, as he guides an excavator onto a trailer along the west dike on Lake Moultrie in preparation to ship the large equipment to Conway.

Rock Solid

On an unseasonably hot and hazy morning  in mid-May, Edward Austin climbed into the cab of a construction-yellow backhoe and took control. With sweat beading his forehead under the brim of his hard hat, Austin maneuvered a load of large rocks with the backhoe’s loader bucket. The sound of stone on stone grinded through the air as rocks tumbled from the loader, placed in precise locations in order to fortify the sides of a new road against erosion.

Austin, a Santee Cooper construction crew supervisor, and his team were working to complete a gravel road under a transmission line. This particular power line connects to Santee Cooper’s Pringletown substation, which feeds electricity to Edisto Electric Cooperative and the new Volvo Cars USA campus.

You may not think twice about the importance of an unassuming gravel road with rocked sides, but it can be essential to business. It’s part of the infrastructure imperative to making sure Santee Cooper supplies reliable electric service to its customers. Without clear rights of way or easy access, power lines could not be built and maintained quickly, and that would jeopardize reliability.

This is just one of the ways Santee Cooper’s construction services department supports our mission to be the leading resource for improving the quality of life for all South Carolinians.

Edward Austin, crew supervisor, uses a backhoe to work on a road leading to the new substation serving Volvo.
Edward Austin, crew supervisor, uses a backhoe to work on a road leading to the new substation serving Volvo.

Constructing

Santee Cooper’s construction services group, led by Manager Mark Carter, is made up of employees who aren’t the type to seek the spotlight. They are charged with everything from clearing land and pouring concrete slabs for substations to transporting ash, testing soil, and maintaining the dams and dikes around the Santee Cooper Lakes. More visible to community members, the construction services group recently built public bathroom facilities for the Amos L. Gourdine Boat Landing on Lake Moultrie. And each autumn, crews help brighten up the holiday season by assembling the lights displays for the annual Celebrate The Season festival in Moncks Corner.

In a recent staff meeting, Carter and six of the supervisors who report to him got down to business, reviewing the 301 projects on their to-do list. Their yearly responsibilities are no small feat. It takes time, planning and dedication to execute each project successfully. And they do it with an attitude toward excellent customer service.

“This is a great team, one that’s able to manage that large number of projects. Each supervisor has several crew super-visors under them and teams that get the work done. I trust them to take those projects and assignments and run with them,” said Carter, who also manages transportation services.

Along with building roads to substations, the construction services group builds foundations for those substations. Along U.S. Highway 544 in the Surfside Beach area, work has started on the new Azalea Lakes substation. It’s an arduous process that begins with clearing the land, boring into the ground and testing the soil.

“This is one of our basic functions. This is what we do,” said Todd Robertson, a construction services supervisor and a three-decade Santee Cooper employee. “As electric load increases, we have to be able to distribute power to those customers. And the Myrtle Beach area is one of our biggest markets. We need more substations to deliver that power, and the construction services group helps make that happen.”

As clearing for a substation begins, engineers test the soil to see if it can withstand a heavy structure.

If soil consistency is not up to par, crews “muck out” or remove the undesirable soil and bring in acceptable soil before starting construction on the concrete pad that will be the base of the substation.

Although Santee Cooper’s electric and water customers don’t get a chance to see them in action like they see line technicians, ultimately each employee in construction services is working for our customers.

“Our internal customers are the transmission and distribution departments, although we’re ultimately working for Santee Cooper’s customers, those who receive power from us. For the Azalea Lakes substation, the customers we’re working for are primarily in the Myrtle Beach area,” Robertson said. “We can turn out some work, now. Crews know how to work hard and they take pride in what they do.”

Equipment Operator III Eric Pressley directs Construction Services Crew Supervisor Joseph Gadson as he lowers the bucket during preparations to transport the equipment to Conway.
Equipment Operator III Eric Pressley directs Construction Services Crew Supervisor Joseph Gadson as he lowers the bucket during preparations to transport the equipment to Conway.

Deconstructing

It seems ironic, but construction services also does its fair share of deconstruction. At the site of the former Grainger Generating Station, located off of U.S. Highway 501 in Conway, crews are working to deconstruct Grainger’s two ash ponds, removing and hauling the ash so it can be beneficially used in industrial products, like concrete.

Supervisor Jim Boodle explained the  overall process.

“We started planning in 2013 and removing ash in 2014. We excavate the ash, dry it and run it across a screen to sift out unwanted material before loading it into trucks,” he said.

Removing ash from ash ponds is taking place not only at the Grainger site, but also at Winyah and Jefferies generating stations. Grainger, however, has been the most visible because of its location and because the public had a particularly high interest when the station and its two 300-ft. stacks were demolished in 2016.

“Crews have early mornings, some beginning work as early as 6 a.m., five days a week. It can be difficult work. The screens are pretty high maintenance, needing many repairs. The screen decks and general maintenance can get pretty grueling at times,” Boodle said. “But our guys take a lot of pride in what they do, and the crews spend so much time together, they end up becoming like family, particularly at the Grainger site. This is a long-term project. These guys have been out of town and away from their homes for the last couple of years. Others, like those who report to Winyah in Georgetown every morning, also have a bit of traveling they do every day.”

Traveling is what Supervisor Mack Irick and his crews and drivers do best. They, too, understand getting to work early in the morning, and are responsible for making sure each project has the heavy equipment it needs to be successful.

“Our job is to be service-oriented to the needs of our customers,” Irick said.

That service-mindedness is critical to make sure work stays on schedule. Work can’t begin without the right equipment. Irick’s crews also have the hefty responsibility of hauling the ash to its final destinations, a process that has recently been fast-tracked to push the targeted completion date of emptying Grainger ash ponds from 2020 to the end of 2018. Irick, with his no-nonsense sense of humor, said his crews take it all in stride. As Irick puts it, “You call. We haul.”

Employees in construction services use excavators and other heavy equipment to excavate fly ash at the former Grainger Generating Station site in Conway.
Employees in construction services use excavators and other heavy equipment to excavate fly ash at the former Grainger Generating Station site in Conway.
The reclaimed fly ash is then used beneficially in industrial products, like concrete.
The reclaimed fly ash is then used beneficially in industrial products, like concrete.

Maintaining

Carter said dam and dike maintenance is probably one of the most important duties of the construction services group.

“Dam safety is a matter of public safety, and we all take that seriously,” Carter said. “Our employees’ expertise in dam maintenance and safety is par to none, and they work extremely hard, especially during emergencies.”

For example, construction services’ crews worked to make sure the dikes that separate Grainger’s ash ponds from the Waccamaw River stayed intact during the flooding that took place in October 2015 and during the winds, rain and flooding Hurricane Matthew brought with it in October 2016. Crews also keep dams and dikes around the Santee Cooper Lakes repaired and maintained.

John Steed and his crews help with that maintenance. “When you look west at the water, you realize the importance of the job you’re doing,” Steed said.

With more than 40 miles of dams and dikes to maintain, the construction services’ engineering team has a great deal of ground to cover.

“We’re on the tail end of a 15,000-square-foot watershed and we’re in the Lowcountry. You have to go a long way to find higher elevations to tie into, so inspections are a significant part of what we do. Our engineering staff does regular inspections, looking for things like movement in the dams, sloughing, slumps, depressions or cracking,” said Shea McMakin, supervisor of civil projects.  “With all dams and dikes, water seeps through. Whether they are made of dirt or concrete, they are porous. The goal is to understand how much the water moves, where it is, where it goes and that it’s not moving material around.”

“We utilize instrumentation, like a piezometer and other flow-measurement devices. We read these instruments to make sure the water stays where it is supposed  to be, and that the dam is stable,” McMakin said.

Technicians review flow measurements on a monthly basis. If problems arise, engineers review those issues and request maintenance crews in construction services to remedy the issues.

Said McMakin, “It’s important to mitigate any problems. We don’t want a storm event or act of nature to come in and cause safety problems. For example, we do earthquake mitigation to provide a level of safety and security for the public.”

Earthquakes are a real possibility in the Lowcountry, and so are hurricanes. During Hurricane Matthew, McMakin and his staff were inspecting and surveying dams and dikes by 9 a.m. on the day of the storm.

“We make sure we don’t have issues or problems that could put the public at risk. That’s what we’re hired to do,” McMakin said.

Transportation Services is the Santee Cooper group charged with supporting the constructors, deconstructors and maintainers. Fleet Manager Ricky Winter and his staff number more than 20-strong, and they maintain and repair fleet vehicles like cars, small trucks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment used across the utility, from generating stations to distribution and transmission crews – and Carter’s own Construction Services team.

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Although they are a diverse group with a wide set of skills, construction services employees believe in customer service.

“We treat each project and each customer like we’d want to be treated, and we give good attention to each project. We work hard and let our folks work directly with the customers in order to meet and exceed their expectations,” explained Carter.

Dike and dam maintenance includes constant sampling and testing of soil in those areas. Here (top left), Engineering Technician A Russell Bagwell (left), Engineer III Michael Melchers (center) and Engineering Technician C Shiloh Burbage (right) break up clumps in a collected sample at Overton. The soil is then divided into metal canisters with mesh filters and weighed to begin the testing process. Dike and dam maintenance includes constant sampling and testing of soil in those areas. Here (top left), Engineering Technician A Russell Bagwell (left), Engineer III Michael Melchers (center) and Engineering Technician C Shiloh Burbage (right) break up clumps in a collected sample at Overton. The soil is then divided into metal canisters with mesh filters and weighed to begin the testing process. Dike and dam maintenance includes constant sampling and testing of soil in those areas. Here (top left), Engineering Technician A Russell Bagwell (left), Engineer III Michael Melchers (center) and Engineering Technician C Shiloh Burbage (right) break up clumps in a collected sample at Overton. The soil is then divided into metal canisters with mesh filters and weighed to begin the testing process. Dike and dam maintenance includes constant sampling and testing of soil in those areas. Here (top left), Engineering Technician A Russell Bagwell (left), Engineer III Michael Melchers (center) and Engineering Technician C Shiloh Burbage (right) break up clumps in a collected sample at Overton. The soil is then divided into metal canisters with mesh filters and weighed to begin the testing process.
Dike and dam maintenance includes constant sampling and testing of soil in those areas. Here (top left), Engineering Technician A Russell Bagwell (left), Engineer III Michael Melchers (center) and Engineering Technician C Shiloh Burbage (right) break up clumps in a collected sample at Overton. The soil is then divided into metal canisters with mesh filters and weighed to begin the testing process.
A machine with mesh filters (left) is used to shake, sift and separate soil samples from dams and dikes. In addition to soil, cement samples are also tested to determine strength (right). A machine with mesh filters (left) is used to shake, sift and separate soil samples from dams and dikes. In addition to soil, cement samples are also tested to determine strength (right).
A machine with mesh filters (left) is used to shake, sift and separate soil samples from dams and dikes. In addition to soil, cement samples are also tested to determine strength (right).
Cement samples are tested to determine strength.
Cement samples are tested to determine strength.
Burbage (front) and Bagwell test the flow of water from a drainage pipe connected to the Lake Moultrie dam.
Burbage (front) and Bagwell test the flow of water from a drainage pipe connected to the Lake Moultrie dam.
Burbage (left) takes a reading on the Lake Moultrie dam as Bagwell logs the data.
Burbage (left) takes a reading on the Lake Moultrie dam as Bagwell logs the data.