Identifying nature’s needs
Helene’s job is to strike that balance of environmental protection, while at the same time making sure the project goes ahead. She says all 21st century environmental regulations must be met before, during and after a construction project.
“SaskPower has not done a major power line build in the north for 20 years, Helene says. “And that was different regulation, different rules in the environmental world at that time.”
She says not only have the environmental rules tightened up in the last 20 years, but “enforcement of existing regulations have also been enhanced.”
“One of the first challenges was to find a path for this line that would minimize the environmental impact.”
It’s helpful that the path chosen for the new line is along an existing power line that runs from Island Falls to Points North.
The path for the new line will run along the existing power line in the north.
“Projects of this magnitude when they are in a new right-of-way would take years of environmental assessment under the acts and regulations to deal with it,” Helene says.
She notes that federal and provincial regulators know from the previous line construction what the habitats in terms of trees, lakes and rivers are in the area, which helps to speed up the approval process.
But just because there is background knowledge of the area doesn’t mean that a thorough inspection doesn’t need to be done. Helene says everything from animals to plants must be identified so land can be restored as close as possible to the way it was found. This includes providing a buffer around areas where birds are nesting to let them raise their young without interference.
When a power pole is home
One of the more fascinating stories Craig and his crew have come across is the desire of ospreys — large, fish hunting birds — to build nests and raise their chicks on top of existing power poles. As Craig explains, there’s a pretty good reason why the raptor prefers the pole for a penthouse.
Working with the birds
While having a “room with a view,” is a desirable option for the birds — it’s highly unlikely predators will be able to climb a power pole to get at the ospreys and their chicks — it’s a challenge when trying to prevent power outages.
Sticks falling out of nests can cause arcing on the power lines. This happens when a branch contacts two or more lines at once and creates a spark, which could lead to outages. SaskPower crews tried to discourage the raptors from building on the poles by mounting big orange traffic pylons on the top.
But the ospreys clearly had no intention of following any conventional traffic rules. They built right around the cone.
No traffic cone was going to stop ospreys from building their nests atop the power pole.
The tip of the orange pylon is all that can be seen just to the left of the osprey.
So, as a compromise, each one of the new power line towers has been designed to install a nesting platform on the top. SaskPower crews will install the platforms and start building nests as a way to attract ospreys to the ready-made spot on the transmission tower. “You would only start to build a nest in an area that you can confirm is a desirable site from a bird’s point of view,” Helene says, adding this is usually determined by where other nests have been built in previous years.
It might seem a little odd that there would be so much attention paid to the birds, but Helene says it’s worth it for everyone.
“Having platforms would mean fewer issues with nests interfering with the power line, less chances of starting forest fires, less chances of power lines causing bird mortality,” she says. “Less outages means it’s better for SaskPower and for customers’ reliability.”
Protecting the land