More than 25 Gulf Power employees chipped in to help raise the poles with a goal to install 12 in the ground by 2 p.m. Because of unforeseen challenges, by the end of the workday eight poles were installed.
More than 25 Gulf Power employees chipped in to help raise the poles with a goal to install 12 in the ground by 2 p.m. Because of unforeseen challenges, by the end of the workday eight poles were installed.

Employees from Gulf Power’s Plant Crist and Environmental Affairs department recently joined forces to continue a long tradition of stewardship work with The Nature Conservancy at the Rainwater Perdido River Preserve.

Twenty-five employees lent their expertise and man- and woman-power during a biannual Stewardship volunteer workday at the Betty & Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve when they gathered to set utility poles for a new pole barn.

“It was labor-intensive, and it did take a lot of manpower to put up the poles and install them safely,” said Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson. “If you do it with one or two people, it’s not safe. To have a large number of people like we have today, it made is easier to do this type of project.”

The job to replace a pole barn, which blew down during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, was made even more challenging by unforeseen issues: discovering an unknown water line when digging a hole for one of the poles, having to bust up and cut away concrete and a brick footer that expanded wider underground than expected, and crossing paths with a snake and a nest of angry wasps.

Yet everyone, armed with the right tools – including wasp spray —and Target Zero safety training, navigated each bump in the road quickly and safely.

Unique opportunity

Jordon Box, assistant Plant operator, spent the day armed with a saw, pick ax and sledge hammer breaking up concrete to make way for the utility poles.
Jordon Box, assistant Plant operator, spent the day armed with a saw, pick ax and sledge hammer breaking up concrete to make way for the utility poles.

Erecting a pole barn is atypical of most Stewardship workdays, especially on the preserve, which is 2,300 acres of freshwater and terrestrial habitats considered among the most highly biodiverse in North America.

“Gulf Power has been instrumental in establishing a nature trail and building boardwalks and a parking lot so we could open year-round to the public, and planting longleaf pine seedlings,” said Brent Shaver, The Nature Conservancy Conservation Forestry project director. “We had a critical need this year — building a pole barn so we can store some equipment and make it last longer.”

The barn is on a piece of the preserve off of U.S. 90 on the Alabama-Florida line that features a 1940s-era Sears & Roebuck kit house built for a ranch hand who oversaw the Rainwater’s pedigreed Angus cattle.

The house — refurbished in 2012 with help of Gulf Power — is used by The Nature Conservancy staff and partner agencies.  As part of the barn-building workday, Gulf Power employees did some maintenance work on it — pressure washed it, repaired some rotting wood flashing and mowed the lawn.

Mike Markey, Environmental Affairs director, helped his team with the maintenance projects.

“Perdido River Preserve is a great site, and we want to help preserve the land to allow the public to enjoy the environment,” he said. “We’re proud of what The Nature Conservancy and Gulf Power has done together.

Preparation paid off

While volunteers put their building skills and muscle power into installing the utility poles they also continuously checked to make sure the poles were level.
While volunteers put their building skills and muscle power into installing the utility poles they also continuously checked to make sure the poles were level.

Preplanning and selecting team members with construction experience made the workday go smoother, DelaHaya pointed out.

Like Plant Crist electrician Jacob Bell who loved the opportunity to flex his construction skills.

“It’s nice to get away from the plant and do something you enjoy doing while helping out with land management,” he said.  “I’m glad Gulf Power allows us to come out and help.”

Vince Seely, a Plant Crist maintenance specialist, has participated in several workdays on the preserve.

“I like this workday because it’s actually building something,” he said. “There’s something there when you’re finished. When you cut trails, you come back and have to do it all over again.”

Completing a list of projects is just one side of The Nature Conservancy’s partnership with Gulf Power.

“It’s about engaging in the community, education and getting some work done I can’t do alone.” Shaver said.

During the work, Shaver said employees learn about The Nature Conservancy’s mission and the preserve so they can go out and tell others.

Moreover, with the expansion of Navy Federal Credit Union, new neighborhoods and other area development projects in the works, the importance of the preserve — set aside by the Rainwaters to save a slice of natural Florida — has never been more important.

“A thriving community is a great thing for Escambia County and Florida,” Shaver said. “We want to ensure some of the landscapes stays natural so we can have all the eco-services like clean air, clean water, places to recreate along the Perdido River, and that’s why we’re here. And Gulf Power is putting their resources on the ground to do good work here.”