The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

November 18, 2012

A lighthouse in the mountains

SUMMERSVILLE — Honestly, it all started over a joke.

Back in 2009, Rick Butler, an interesting fellow from Ontario, Canada, spent the summer as one of our guests here at Summersville Lake Retreat while working as part of the crew erecting wind towers at Beech Ridge, a wind farm project in neighboring Greenbrier County.

As luck would have it, we were located near the transportation route that the tower components traveled to reach their destination. On more than one occasion, we had marveled at their size as they passed by, just one blade stretched over half the length of a football field.

Because of our unique location above the cliffs overlooking Summersville Lake, one evening we off-handedly ribbed Rick that if he would be kind enough to divert one of the tower sections in our direction, that we would keep it and disguise it as a lighthouse.

He replied with a classic deadpan expression on his face, “Funny that you say that, mate, we just lost one over the hill.”

As it turned out, torrential rains had recently undermined the crib blocks supporting one of the newly delivered tower sections, and it had indeed rolled 75 feet down an adjacent hillside, deeming it unsuitable for wind production.

Rick put us onto Geoff Kerr, the Beech Ridge construction manager. He was instrumental in facilitating our eventual purchase of it from parent company Invenergy LLC.

Even though we still had to overcome some major obstacles in transporting it back to our location, we were ecstatic. We now owned it; now we just had to get it home!

By this time, having gotten our first close-up walk-through of our actual tower component, we were taken aback at the sheer size of it. It covered a length of 100 feet and weighed almost 72,000 pounds.

We had begun to wonder just what we had gotten ourselves into, considering the fact that it took two 50-ton crane units simply to unload it off of the truck.

But again, Geoff stepped up and introduced us to Art Naatz, construction superintendent for White Construction, the main contractor at Beech Ridge. He, Doug Stoehr, Shawn Woods and the rest of the crew had already assembled more than 100 of these units on site and assured us that they were up to the task of transporting it to us.

We should have known better, but we assumed the transport route back to us would be the same that it took to reach its original destination. All of the logistics and planning (wide load permits, pilot cars, etc.) were no sooner set in motion, than we realized that maintenance and repairs were ongoing on the New River Gorge Bridge The main route back to its future home was effectively severed.

Again, Art, Doug and the rest of the crew calmly took it in stride as the initially planned route took a detour of over 100 miles, literally circumnavigating our location.

As plans were being made for moving day, we had some additional groundwork to be done at our location. Although our existing entrance could easily handle the largest of fifth wheel campers and motorcoaches that visit us , it could in no way accommodate what was heading our direction.

Back once again to the West Virginia Department of Transportation to acquire the necessary permits required to double the width of our entrance and roadway leading to the site.

To further complicate issues, after watching the tower sections being transported last summer “tail first” on the seven-axle stretch semi rigs, and having planned the landing site layout accordingly, ours arrived “head first” — the opposite of what we had planned.

This is where God’s hand truly intervened in the form of Roger Hilsher, the rig’s driver.

After taking just one look to orient him to the landing zone, Roger expertly BACKED his rig a quarter mile through our winding entrance road and perfectly into place. In one shot!

From there, it was simply a matter of coordinating the efforts of two 50-ton cranes — again, kudos to Doug and the operators at Beckley Crane.

Finally it was ours, lock, stock and barrel. Now what?

Back to Rick, the initial instigator of the whole thing on where to turn next. Rick informed us that by sheer coincidence we had a resident tower expert living in our midst. Bill Toney, owner of Engineering and Testing 2000 has devoted most of his professional life to the erection of towers of all description and was the lead engineer on the entire Beech Ridge project. The thought of recycling a wind tower, itself the very symbol of the next generation of green energy, piqued his interest, and from that moment, Bill and his engineer assistant Nycoma Scott were a continual source of technical wizardry in guiding us through the engineering portions of the project.

After several long discussions with them ranging from wind shear load to cathodic protection, it quickly became apparent that it was time to go back to school before we tried to build what would become the equivalent of a 10-story building.

It also soon became all too clear that the size and scale of our undertaking dwarfed our meager budget. If this project had any chance of getting off of the ground at all, we were going to need some help in more ways than one.

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