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Raptors prompt rewiring

Lynn BurtonStaff Writer

Holy Cross Energy took another step in its 10-year, $1 million effort to prevent raptors and other wildlife from being electrocuted by its power lines.The most recent prevention project took place Monday on power lines crossing the Roaring Fork River, where a bald eagle was electrocuted in March.In that spot, four power lines are strung between two poles on either side of the Roaring Fork River, just downvalley from the Colorado Mountain College turnoff.Walt Dorman, Holy Cross construction engineer, said he thinks as the eagle swooped down to the river, it flew between the power lines and its wing tips touched both of them.That created an electrical arc, instantly killing the bird, a national emblem. Momentum carried the dead bird to the Roaring Fork River’s west bank.”It landed on the shore,” Dorman said.Rich Waltsak, who lives by the river, saw the eagle’s death, and notified the local press and Colorado Division of Wildlife.”To see a beautiful bird go down like that … it ruined my day,” Waltsak said at the time.Dorman said Monday’s prevention project cost Holy Cross $15,000 to $20,000.First, the existing power poles were removed and taller ones installed. This allowed Holy Cross crews to locate the cross arms and four power lines farther down the pole, increasing their separation to five feet. At that width, Dorman said, eagles can perch on top of the poles and drop down between the lines without touching two at a time.”It shouldn’t be a problem at all,” Dorman said.Increasing power lines’ spacing is a bit of a departure from the utility industry’s previous approach.”At first, we tried to keep eagles off poles no matter what, but now we’re making poles safe to land on,” Dorman said.Holy Cross crews also attached several yellow, spiral “flight diverters” to the power lines, so raptors and other birds can better see the lines and avoid them when they are flying over the river.Holy Cross started its wildlife protection program three years ago, and has so far spent $300,000, Dorman said.The utility met with Fort Collins environmental consulting firm EDM International before starting the project, and followed the firm’s recommendations “to the letter,” Dorman said.Holy Cross spokesperson Bob Gardner said federal legislation, including the Endangered Species Act, encourages utilities to make power lines and poles less dangerous to wildlife.”We want to comply with federal regulations, and we don’t want to see those critters injured,” Gardner said.Gardner said there are several measures Holy Cross can take to accomplish its wildlife safety goals:-To keep birds from landing on poles, T-shaped cross arms can be turned into pyramids, which makes it uncomfortable for birds to perch. Dorman said this is done where lines can’t be lowered to increase spacing. There are already several poles like this along Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.-Insulating caps can be put on parts of pole transformers to prevent birds and other wildlife from getting electrocuted.-Transformer jumper wires connected to overhead wires can be insulated.-As was done Monday, flight diverters can be attached to wires to keep birds from flying into them, and the distance between wires can be increased from the existing four feet to five feet.The Holy Cross service area extends from Vail to Battlement Mesa to Aspen. The company is inspecting every pole in the district, and more raptor projection projects are scheduled for next spring.Waltsak had called for burying the power line across the river in an underground pipe.Compared to the $15,000 to $20,000 price tag on Monday’s project, Dorman said, “to put the lines underground would cost ten times that much. It’s just too expensive.”


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