When The Great Lakes Construction Co. was presented with this project in late spring 2019, the compounding challenges seemed nearly insurmountable. A gas processing facility in the hills of the northern West Virginia panhandle had already begun aggressive double-shift construction, and the plant needed 138-kV electrical power for startup in just 14 short months. The electrical utility had only recently received approval to proceed and was in the conceptual design stage of the project. Analysis by the utility company indicated that a greenfield substation and new transmission line would need to be constructed. Great Lakes was brought on board as a Design Assist partner to help navigate the many challenges of the job. The Project Team proved to be fully focused to perform the work safely and successfully despite a compressed schedule, work complexity, and challenging terrain – not to mention the construction taking place largely over winter.
The summer months of 2019 consisted of design development by the electrical utility’s engineers, with assistance from Great Lakes regarding constructability, schedule, and cost. Simultaneously, the utility’s right-of-way was being negotiated and environmental permit applications were in process. By late fall, a finalized design, landowner agreements and the necessary permits were in place to begin earthwork construction of the greenfield 138-kV substation.
The new substation is located on top of a grassy hill overlooking the nearby valleys and winding country road leading to it. The tight site and surrounding topography required approximately 150,000 cubic yards (CY) of technically complex earthwork. The station pad was underlain by a hard sandstone bedrock, 50,000 CY of which needed to be blasted and excavated to flatten the area.
Prior to the start of earthwork, a date had been set to begin substation foundations. Foundations were the critical path, and a delay meant risk to the overall project. Despite almost 7 weeks of lost weather days over the winter, the Great Lakes’ foundation crew moved onto the site as planned mid-February.
Simultaneously with the work occurring at the station, Great Lakes began to install the transmission line access roads in January 2020. Given the limited timeframe of the project, the temporary roads needed to be installed as efficiently as possible while condensing any lag time between access completion and installation of the drilled pier foundations. The utility contractor, Kent Power (Substation and T-Line electrician), and the Great Lakes’ project team worked to identify optimum access routes prior to permitting, eliminating construction delays in the field.
Over a 3-month period in late winter and early spring, Great Lakes crews installed all pad/pier substation foundations and transmission line drilled piers. Similar to the “just-in-time” placement of the substation foundations, Great Lakes installed a total of 43 four-foot to 9-foot diameter transmission line drilled piers following closely behind our access road crews.
The introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 forced our essential workers in the field to learn a new set of procedures and precautions but did not slow progress on the job. The overall project team wrapped up all installation work ahead of schedule in early July. Access road reclamation began shortly after energization and was substantially completed in September, awaiting only grass growth for final removal of storm water controls. Great Lakes ultimately performed all civil and foundation aspects of the project. The job is a great example of the obstacles that can be overcome when a focused project team collaborates early and often working towards a common end goal.