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Crews Building Power Lines Near Frozen Miss. Battle Winter

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The largest, most expensive upgrade of the region's electrical transmission system in over 40 years is facing a major challenge.

CAPX 2020 is 800 miles of new power lines built at twice the cost of the new Vikings stadium. But there's one leg of the project south of Wabasha where engineering is beating the elements of old man winter.

Heading to the job site by boat, you can hear the crunching noise of ice hitting the aluminum hull. It's the sound of early ice on the Mississippi, where the boating season won't end until this crucial construction project does.

Adam Kaufmann works with marine contractor J.F. Brennan.

"It's not ideal conditions to be in a boat on the Mississippi River, so we are fighting to get off the river, all the crews are working hard," Kaufmann said.

CAPX 2020 will move electricity over five new and upgraded 345-kilovolt and 230-kilovolt transmission lines. And of all the miles of lines being constructed, one particular leg over the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Alma, Wisconsin is a minor miracle.

Crews with J.F. Brennan and Xcel Energy are building on a soggy river bottom. Three of the massive steel towers are even going up on an island in the middle of the river.

That's why the contractor that specializes in work in and around rivers is taking everything to the job site by tugboat and barge.

"While we were out here the water did come up quite a bit, and we had to take equipment off the island just for safety factor," Kaufmann said.

The footings alone for the steel towers required some 4,000 yards of concrete, so 450 cement trucks had to be loaded onto the barge and brought to the pour site.

The steel towers rise 185 feet above the river and will carry the nine conductors across a section roughly one-mile wide from shore to shore.

Getting the towers erected is taking the help of a giant crane to lift the sections into place. It too was transported to the work site by barge.

But safety is a particular concern when working in such difficult conditions, and the weather has added yet another challenge. The crane can't safely lift loads if the winds are blowing much more than a whisper.

Torsten Wolff is an Xcel crew foreman.

"The wind's a factor. We can only go up under certain wind conditions. And then if it's raining or snowing that makes stuff a little more unbearable," Wolff said.

Three high-capacity, high-voltage electrical circuits will soon span the Mississippi River at the same spot where power that two lines built in 1955 once stood. Just as quickly as the new towers go up, the old lattice structures are coming down, to be dismantled and hauled away.

It is a challenging and eco-sensitive construction project that will soon span more than a river. When it is completed in the weeks ahead, it will help meet the demands of a power-thirsty state.

Besides the weather, the project is also battling nature's clock. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires all work be completed before bald eagles begin nesting, which is around the first of the year.


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