Videos of Asian carp in rivers near the Great Lakes have gone viral. The fish literally jump out of the water and into passing boats and occasionally even smack people in the head. Jumping fish, however, is not what worries the federal government, politicians, local jurisdictions, residents, businesses and environmentalists. What concerns them, rather, is the migration of Asian carp through the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), including the Mississippi, Wabash and Grand Calumet rivers. It is one of the most serious invasive threats facing the Great Lakes’ ecosystem, recreational and commercial boaters, and the economy.

The fish pose a threat particularly to the $7 billion-per-year fishing industry because they are large, extremely prolific in reproducing, and consume vast amounts of food. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they can weigh up to 100 pounds and grow to lengths surpassing 4 feet. Researchers expect that Asian carp will seriously disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes, if they are allowed to continue migrating.

In February 2010, the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC), comprising the Army Corps of Engineers (COE), the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other relevant agencies, was formed to coordinate and unify the federal, state and local responses to the Asian carp. One of those responses was to erect an electrical fish barrier fence on the Des Plaines River to keep the carp from crossing into the CAWS and to construct a building that would house the high-voltage transformers and equipment that feed the barrier. Aquatic species are not harmed by the barrier, which is positioned on the river floor. They are merely deterred by the electrical current and naturally turn around.

Going fishing
General contractor E.P. Doyle extended an invitation to several local electrical contractors to bid on the project, including NuWave Electric Co., Sugar Grove, Ill.

“We had performed work on some smaller projects with the company in the past and are known in the area for our design/build and emergency backup power system experience,” said Mike Beary, head project manager, NuWave Electric.

The almost $5-million project, which began in the spring of 2010 and was completed eight months later, did not originally call for NuWave to perform design/build services, but when the company, E.P. Doyle, and the Army COE began holding contract and scope-of-work meetings, it became evident that the electrical service specifications were inadequate for the high-voltage equipment. Realizing that the team had to start over, NuWave turned to High Voltage Electric Testing and Maintenance Inc. (HVE), St. Charles, Ill.

“We had not worked with NuWave before, but I knew Mike Beary through industry and association connections,” said Bart Curtin Sr., owner of HVE.

Working with the Army COE, E.P. Doyle, and the local utility, Commonwealth Edison, HVE and NuWave designed a new substation to serve the two 4-megawatt (MW) transformers and two 2-MW backup emergency power generators and parallel- switchgear for the officially named Chicago Sanitary Canal Aquatic Nuisance Species Dispersal Barrier 2B.

“Together with HVE and E.P. Doyle, we also designed enclosures and controls, determined site orientations, managed logistics, and sized the requisite generators and associated cabling,” said Chris Beary, project manager and lead estimator for NuWave Electric.

HVE designed a loop-distribution system that enables problems to be isolated and resolved quickly.

“A loop system provides much better redundancy options,” said Doug Walsh, consulting engineer.

Also required for the project were lightning protection and grounding systems, for which HLP Systems Inc., Libertyville, Ill., submitted its quote.

“We had worked with E.P. Doyle on the 2A barrier located further south and knew the other electrical companies through industry and community events,” said Jeff Harger, HLP’s president.

The company worked with E.P. Doyle, NuWave and the Army COE to develop appropriate designs for a lightning protection system that would be less visually intrusive as well as grounding fields for the electrical system and the generators.

Midway through construction, two more companies, Nova Fire Protection Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., and its sister company, Fire Pros Inc., Medinah, Ill., joined the project team.

“We began running conduit and piping for the fire suppression system in June 2010,” said Rick Ruh, operations manager.

Nova/Fire Pros had a direct contract with E.P. Doyle and provided design/assist suggestions that enabled design of a fire detection, suppression and monitoring system that was economically feasible with the requisite high levels of fire and life safety.

According to E.P. Doyle’s senior project manager Russ Wennerstrom, both NuWave and Nova/Fire Pros were chosen for their qualifications and competitive bids.

“With the number of changes involved, we needed team members who could solve problems and provide designs that would ensure the project’s overall success,” he said.

Rising to the bait
Although all the companies worked as a team under the general contractor, each brought its own specialties to the project and had its own installation responsibilities. NuWave, which specified the appropriate products and systems under the Army COE mandate that all products be made in the United States, installed the generators and transformers as well as the switchgear, lights, motors and controls; it also made the terminations at the utility transformer.

“Five-hundred-fifty feet of underground concrete-encased conduit was laid though the bedrock from the substation to the building transformers,” Beary said.

The company also installed the parallel switchgear in a smaller, adjacent building to service the backup emergency power system. Then, another electrical contractor, Lyons & Pinner Electric Cos. ran the 480-volt (V) power from the switchgear to the SPANGS, converting alternating current (AC) power to direct current (DC) power and feeding the iron rails placed on concrete sleepers at the canal bottom.

“That is where the 2.3V-per-square-inch of electricity is distributed to distract the fish,” Beary said.

Lyons & Pinner worked for Smith-Root Inc., Vancouver Wash., a provider of electrofishing, fish guidance and electroanesthesia equipment to aid in fish restoration and recovery operations. The company was on-site for six months.

Working in conjunction with NuWave’s field staff, HVE’s high-voltage electricians installed 6,360 feet of 15-kilovolt (kV), 500-kcmil copper ethylene propylene rubber (EPR) shielded cable; 660 feet of 15-kV, 350-kcmil copper EPR shielded cable; and 2,280 feet of 400- and 600-kcmil 600V copper conductors.

“Basically, while NuWave was responsible for wiring from the transformer through the switchgear to the panels, HVE was responsible for the high-voltage wiring from the utility metering point to the distribution transformers located outside the main building as well as acceptance testing of the high-voltage equipment,” Walsh said.

All that high-voltage wiring and equipment had to be grounded and protected from lightning strikes. The lightning protection system that HLP installed consisted of strike--termination devices, interconnecting conductors with connections to the grounding field, and interconnections to other grounded equipment and electrical services in, on and around the building. The grounding system consists of solid copper ground plates, 10-foot grounding electrodes or solid copper wire mesh, depending on the equipment being protected and its location.

“We used an equipotential ground loop, which interconnects the various electrodes installed around the building perimeter,” Harger said.

The building is divided into 10 compartments with concrete walls, each with different equipment in it. NOVA/Fire Pros provided each compartment with its own clean agent suppression source, cross-zoned heat detectors, and monitoring and notification devices.

“The entire system is wired to a central control panel with 10 separate hazard zones and integrated with a remote facility operated by the COE,” Ruh said.

Reeling it in
The site, through which the high-voltage conduit was to be run between the substation and the equipment building, was almost pure bedrock, requiring excavation and encasement of the conduit in concrete.

“In addition, being situated next to the canal meant maintaining a different set of safety standards,” Beary said.

Working with E.P. Doyle, Brian Albus, NuWave’s safety manager, maintained the strict life safety plan, including mandated life vests within 7 feet of the canal and life safety lanyards.

“We educated the field electricians in the use of the equipment and the importance of strict compliance. We were rewarded with an injury-free project,” Albus said.

Field personnel also were educated on the presence of stray currents at the site. According to Walsh, a temporary fish fence barrier already in place was producing stray currents in the grounding system that HLP was installing.

“In addition to the dangers of working near the canal, field personnel were constantly encouraged to be highly aware and sensitive to the environment at all times,” he said.

The grounding system had other challenges, also attributable to the site’s bedrock conditions, Harger said.

“To install the 10-foot-long grounding electrodes, we partnered with Cobra Concrete [Arlington Heights, Ill.], to core out more than 30 2-inch-diameter holes that were then filled with conductive earthing material before the ground rods were driven,” he said.

The fast-track schedule challenged all team members.

“With most of the trades on-site at the same time, there was a lot of congestion,” Ruh said, adding that the long, narrow corridors inside the building made it difficult to manage the lift equipment required to reach the high ceilings, while outside, the tight space made crane clearances, which were needed to set the large transformers, an issue.

“By all the team members coordinating schedules and cooperating and collaborating closely with each other, we were able to meet the schedule with maximum efficiency and minimized disruption,” Beary said.
By focusing on safety and being dedicated to the project’s goals, these contractors demonstrated how teamwork, collaboration and diligence leads to the delivery of complete, timely and quality projects, even quirky ones that are serving an odd, but important, purpose.

According to Richard Hunt, contracting officer representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, studies are still being conducted, but there are indications that the barrier is stopping most of the fish. They also, however, have indications that some smaller fish have gotten though and so higher voltages have been implemented beginning Oct. 11, 2011. Studies on the success of the barrier will continue through at least next year.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.