Safeguarding Skagit: Inside the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade

City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project provides clean and efficient energy to Seattle’s customers, and its idyllic location provides spectacular, Instagram-worthy views of the North Cascades and Diablo Lake. Being nestled in such a remote location does have its advantages, but it can also provide its share of challenges when minutes count. During an emergency—whether someone has a bump or bruise during a dam tour or is involved in a serious traffic accident on the North Cascades Highway—a team of City Light employees take action, changing from their daily roles at the utility to act as members of the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade.

For almost 60 years, this mostly volunteer group of first responders has gone above and beyond their assigned work duties at City Light to safeguard the residents and property of City Light, the Skagit Project and the North Cascades National Park. Fire Brigade Chief Cody Watson explains “the brigade fights fires and provides an emergency response like a typical fire department would; there are situations that require backup.” That’s why in 2008, a specialized group called the Skagit Technical Response Team (STRT) was created to supplement the brigade and provide aid during unusual rescue situations. Like the brigade, STRT is a team of City Light employees who are trained beyond their day-to-day skills.

In 2016, the brigade was crucial to the containment of the Goodell Creek Fire, which severely threatened the Skagit Hydroelectric Project and the surrounding communities. For Watson, an emergency of any size is important because of the brigade’s local impact.

“We have helped friends, family, co-workers and strangers who are often having the worst day of their lives,” says Watson. “The brigade provides services that no one else in this geographical area can. When the fire alarm goes off, they have to switch gears and put on a different hat. We have a pretty extraordinary team up here.”

Last November, the fire brigade added a new vehicle to their fleet, a state-of-the-art ambulance. The new vehicle replaced a unit that had been in service for nearly 25 years. Watson and the brigade worked closely with the City Light Fleet and Mobile Equipment team to build a unit that meets their unique needs. Some of the unique features include snow chains that engage with a flip of a switch, a hydraulic lift and cabin airbags to protect first responders when treating a patient.

Thank you, Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade, for keeping the City Light employees and its visitors safe!

 

Experience the majestic beauty of the North Cascades next summer on a Skagit Tour. Skagit Tours provide a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. Visit https://www.seattle.gov/light/damtours/skagit.asp for more information!

See Skagit: Diablo Lake Boat Tour

This summer, see the many places and meet the many faces of Skagit.

Tre on the new Alice Ross IV boat

Meet Tre Nabstedt. He’s one of three boat captains that takes you aboard Skagit Tour’s Alice Ross IV boat for an unforgettable cruise on Diablo Lake. This summer will mark his second season showcasing the incredible splendor of the area—from the distinctive turquoise color of the glacier-fed lakes to the architectural marvels of City Light’s Diablo and Ross dams. Tre recently sat down with us for a quick chat about Diablo Lake Boat Tours and what he enjoys most about working in the heart of Mother Nature.

Can you tell us a little about the Skagit Tours on Diablo Lake?
“Right from the beginning, people can expect to see a really nice glimpse of the natural beauty that lives here in the North Cascades. You get out on the water, see different wildlife and learn some fun facts about the lake, the surrounding mountains and glaciers, along with the fish and river ecosystems.

The tour also provides a more in-depth look of the natural systems and fascinating history of how the hydroelectric project was built and operated from the start of J.D. Ross’s vision up until today. It’s a pretty rewarding experience.”

A unique view of Ross Dam, one of three power generating developments at City Light’s Skagit Project

What type of wildlife is typically spotted?
“We see a ton of bald eagles, a lot of different species of ducks. You’re likely to see fish jumping out of the lake. You may see a deer, a black bear, or a mountain lion…there is SO much life up here.”

You never know what you’ll see in the North Cascades. This black bear was spotted during a Diablo Lake Boat Tour.

Who usually joins the tour?
“There’s always a great mix on board. Everyone from newlyweds and families to tour groups and retirees. Occasionally, folks will return to the tour and bring someone they want to share the experience with. It’s a great thing to give as a gift. We’ve also had a few multi-generational groups where grandparents bring grandchildren, which is always fun. It’s an easy day trip that pleases everyone.”

What are the common reactions people have when cruising the lake?
“I would say awestruck. People are completely amazed by the beauty. They’re generally very captivated. I never see bored faces.”

What attracted you to this job?
“By nature, I’m a mountain AND an ocean lover. We’re not on the ocean, but we’re still surrounded by this incredible water. I feel pretty lucky to spend my summers in Skagit…on a boat…up in the mountains. I love it.”

A stunning vista of Diablo Lake

Thank you, Tre, for providing a sneak peek of the “Skagit Magic” one can expect aboard! Seattle City Light has been offering the popular Diablo Lake Tour for more than 80 years, educating the community about the utility’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project which provides clean, low-cost, renewable power to Seattle. To learn more or to book the tour, click here.

Massive Moving Project Supports Replacement of Transformers at Ross Dam Powerhouse

One of the new Ross Powerhouse transformers is loaded onto a barge to be carried across Diablo Lake.

For the first time since Ross Dam and its powerhouse went into service in the 1950s, Seattle City Light is replacing the large transformers that convert electricity generated at the powerhouse to higher voltage for transmission to Seattle.

The transformers weigh about 80 tons, and moving them from the manufacturer, ABB, in St. Louis to the Skagit Hydroelectric Project has been a massive undertaking of its own. Each transformer was loaded onto a rail car and delivered by train from Missouri to Bellingham. There, each transformer was loaded onto long semi tractor-trailers that could handle the weight and carefully driven up twisting Highway 20 through two tunnels into the North Cascades.

Replacement transformers were brought by semi tractor-trailer up Highway 20.

While smaller loads can be driven across Diablo Dam to reach Ross, these trucks were too long. That meant transferring the transformers using a “jack-and-slide” technique to a special trailer with many axles and wheels, called a crawler. The crawler then took them over a temporary gravel road to the edge of Diablo Lake near the Thunder Knob Trailhead and Colonial Creek Campground. There, they were loaded onto a barge and towed across the lake to the Ross Powerhouse where they will be installed over the next four months.

Workers slide a transformer off the tractor-trailer and onto the crawler.

Seattle City Light will deliver seven new transformers and remove six existing transformers over the next two years.  Half of the work will be performed this summer.  The other half will be replaced in summer 2017.  The existing transformers have been in continuous use since Ross Powerhouse began operations in the 1950’s.  They have reached the end of their useful life.

Barge Landing on Diablo Lake Reaches Milestone

A construction crew installs a pre-cast concrete section for the heavy barge landing at Diablo Lake.

Seattle City Light’s contractor for a heavy barge landing dock on Diablo Lake at the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project has reached an important milestone.

Last week, the contractor set pre-cast concrete panels for the barge landing, which is one of the biggest components of the job. Remaining tasks include tightening the panels together, patching any openings, adding handrails and bumpers, and final road grading.

This $1.5 million project is one of the final phases of work needed to replace facilities destroyed by a 2010 rock slide.

City Light uses barges to carry heavy equipment across Diablo Lake to and from its Ross Dam and Powerhouse. The project must be completed to allow for the delivery of six new transformers to Ross Powerhouse scheduled for 2016.

Diablo Lake was lowered about 10 feet for some of the earlier work. It is now back in its regular operating range.

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.

Workers install a pre-cast concrete section of the heavy barge landing.

Seattle City Light Crews Defend Skagit Hydroelectric Project from Fire

Seattle City Light crews are working today to reduce the risk of additional damage to the Skagit Hydroelectric Project from the advancing Goodell Creek Fire and are preparing to start repairs to damaged transmission lines.

Crews are working to clear vegetation around a wood pole line between the Diablo and Ross dams and powerhouses. The crews also plan to wrap the 70 wood poles in fire resistant material to reduce the risk of damage should the area burn. The line delivers backup power to restart generators and run control panels. The poles also carry fiber optic communications lines for the facilities.

Thursday, crews plan to start on-the-ground inspections 11 transmission towers for damage. Aerial views indicate that several of the towers have been damaged.

Safe access to the equipment in rugged terrain with fallen trees while the fire continues to burn is the first consideration for any of the work to take place. Provided with safe access, crews could start making repairs to the transmission lines by Saturday.

Damage to the transmission lines has limited City Light’s ability to generate and deliver power from the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. The utility has been able to resume generation of about 40 megawatts of electricity from its Gorge Powerhouse and deliver it on the North Mountain transmission line.

Typically, this time of year, the utility would be able to generate about 150 megawatts of power from the Skagit. The loss of transmission capacity is costing the utility about $100,000 a day.

Seattle City Light is the 10th largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to about 750,000 Seattle area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction.