Seattle City (spot)Light: Toni LeClare

Antoinette (Toni) LeClare is a woman who saw an opportunity at Seattle City Light and seized it. As a hydroelectric operator, she is something of a rare breed; very few women have made a career out of the work she does.

Toni is quick to credit pioneers like Heidi Durham and Megan Cornish with paving the way for women in electrical trades at City Light, but despite her modesty Toni remains a ground breaker at the utility. After almost 34 years at City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project, Toni has proven herself to be persistent, tough and very good at her job.

Toni’s work ethic has been rewarded with a leadership position. She is currently working as an out of class generation supervisor, one of five supervisors at the Skagit Project. In this week’s Seattle City (spot)Light, Toni talks about her career in the electricity-generating business.

OOC Generation Supervisor Toni LeClare

I came to work for Seattle City Light because they invited women into the workforce, just like the RSJI initiative today is trying to make our workforce look like the community at large. It’s flattering to me that people think of me as someone who broke ground for other women (and I probably was to some extent), but there were women before me who really took risks. They were very politically-minded and outspoken and really opened the doors for other women to come to work here.

Now women are supervisors, crew chiefs, lineworkers, operators or anything they want to be. But in my career, I’ve only known two other women who were hydro operators.

I am a high school graduate, with two years of college. I was working at an aluminum plant in Vancouver, WA, where I was apprenticing with the electrical maintenance crew when I got laid off. I had only been in the program for one year, but the aluminum company continued to pay for my school after I got laid off.

Minimal qualifications for applying for my City Light job were two years’ experience or the equivalent. City Light considered my time working at the aluminum plant in combination with my schooling in order to qualify me to take the test. I did well on the test and I must have had some OK interviews, because I got hired and started as a hydro operator in 1983.

It was challenging when I came to work at the Skagit Project. Operator jobs are very sought after, and I took a lot of flak. There was a rumor mill going that said I hadn’t passed my test and lots of other things. I had to overcome people’s preconceived notions about me. I thought about leaving, but I’m pretty stubborn. The harder it got, the more determined I became to stick it out.

So it was difficult for me at first. When you’re an operator, you eat, sleep and breathe the job. My son was eight years old when I started working in Newhalem, and I was a single parent. The operating job is very demanding of your time. When he was playing sports in school and I was working all these weird shifts, I still made it out to support him.

I lived in the camp for 27 years and responded to callouts during that time. I’m proud of the fact that I would go out by myself, in the in the middle of the night and the worst weather imaginable, to respond to a bad situation. I was in the volunteer fire department for 20 years and I was an EMT for 13, so most people see me as very competent. I have a sense of accomplishment about that, and it gives me confidence.

The way I look at things, if you have an interest, you pursue it. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the traditional jobs women have had over the years. My mother was a very good secretary, but I always knew I didn’t want to do what she did. When you have an opportunity, you can either make the best of it or let it pass you by. Now I make a very good living here.

I get along with men really well, but that doesn’t mean that I look at things the same way men do. And I don’t keep my mouth shut if something needs to be said. I hope my presence here brings some balance. I really care about what happens here, and I’m emotionally involved.

The most satisfying things in life are often not the easiest ones. I don’t think I am anything special; I just take things one day at a time and put one foot in front of the other. If I’m anything, I’m persistent.

Skagit Tours: New and Improved for 2016

Today marks the beginning of the season for City Light’s Skagit Tours, and the experience for guests is better than ever this year. A new vessel, the Alice Ross IV, is making its debut on the Diablo Lake Boat Tours.

The new Alice Ross IV on a test run in April 2016

As it name implies, the Alice Ross IV is the fourth vessel to show visitors to the North Cascades the wonders of Diablo Lake. The Alice Ross boats have been in service to the public for more than 80 years. They are all named in honor of Alice Ross, the wife of J.D. Ross, the man who helped make hydroelectric energy generation along the Skagit River a reality.

The Alice Ross I on Diablo Lake in 1935

The Alice Ross IV is 55 feet long and has a capacity of 49 passengers and crew. It has an air-conditioned and heated cabin, an open aft deck and an onboard head. Best of all, it has large glass windows all along its cabin sides and roof, making for an excellent viewing experience—even from inside the boat.

Guests can stay dry and comfortable in the temperature-controlled cabin of the Alice Ross IV.

Located about 128 miles northeast of Seattle, Diablo Lake is a reservoir created by the Diablo Dam, one of three dams built in the last century on the Skagit River by Seattle City Light. Lake Diablo is a beautiful jade-turquoise color due to the glacial flour found in the waters that feed it.

 An aerial view of Diablo Lake looking south

City Light offers two different types of boat tours on Diablo Lake: a full tour that begins in the morning and ends in the afternoon, with a snack and lunch provided, or a shorter tour later in the afternoon. Both options provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about the unique history of the lake, the amazing biodiversity of the surrounding habitat and its wildlife. And, of course, views of the snow-capped mountains and jade waters are even more enjoyable from the cozy cabin of the new Alice Ross IV.

The 2016 Skagit Tours season closes in September 2016, but you should book today if you’d like to embark on his adventure. Dates are filling up quickly!

Book a Diablo Lake Boat Tour 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.

Seattle City Light Testing New Skagit Tours Boat, Alice Ross IV

Testing the Alice Ross IV on Padilla Bay.

Construction is complete on Seattle City Light’s new tour boat, the Alice Ross IV, and sea trials are underway to test the boat before it begins service for Skagit Tours on Diablo Lake this summer.

City Light is replacing the Alice Ross III, which spent years providing Skagit Tours visitors rides across Diablo Lake. The new boat was built by Rozema Boat Works in Mt. Vernon.

The new boat is 55 feet long with a 16-foot beam. It has a rated capacity of 49 passengers and crew and is Americans with Disabilities Act accessible. The cabin uses as much glass as possible, including in the roof, to allow for the best outward visibility possible. A heating and air conditioning system, as well as an onboard head, will increase passenger comfort over the previous boats. The heating and cooling system has the capability to be powered from shore while docked, so the boat can be warmed or cooled before a tour without the need to run the engines.

A 14-foot open aft deck also allows for passengers to enjoy the tour from outside. The boat is powered by twin 500 hp John Deere diesel engines, which turn Hamilton jet drives.

This is the fourth tour boat named for Alice Ross, the wife of City Light’s second superintendent.

The Alice Ross IV was launched Dec. 30 on Padilla Bay, east of Anacortes, for its trial runs.

“It was a very cold, but beautiful, day with calm water, perfect for our first tests of the boat,” Sr. Capital Project Manager Josh Jackson said. “Overall the boat performed really well.  It’s smooth and has plenty of power, while still being relatively quiet.  We were able to get up to about 28 knots at full RPM. The target is 12 at cruising RPM — no problem.”

Testing will continue all week, including engine tuning and a visit from Washington State Labor and Industries representatives to witness the stability tests.

This is the fourth Skagit Tours boat to be named for the wife of City Light’s second superintendent, J.D. Ross, who led the development of the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. J.D. Ross is often referred to as the father of Seattle City Light.

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.