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updated: 7/11/2013 9:05 AM

Batavia, ComEd inspect thousands of utility poles for rot

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  • Batavia discovered last year that five of the six utility poles on Western Avenue brought down in a storm in July 2012 had significant rot. It prompted officials to order a check of all 2,600 of the city's wooden utility poles.

       Batavia discovered last year that five of the six utility poles on Western Avenue brought down in a storm in July 2012 had significant rot. It prompted officials to order a check of all 2,600 of the city's wooden utility poles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • An Osmose Utility Services worker wraps a paper barrier around the base of a pole on Garfield Avenue Wednesday morning. They were checking the soundness of poles.

       An Osmose Utility Services worker wraps a paper barrier around the base of a pole on Garfield Avenue Wednesday morning. They were checking the soundness of poles.
    Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Batavia Utility Pole Exams

 
 

It may seem a little strange, but don't be alarmed if you see people hitting wooden utility poles with a hammer this month and next.

It's happening in Batavia and might be happening to a pole near you in the immediate future.

The people with the hammers in Batavia have been hired to do so, to test the soundness of the 2,600 wooden poles that carry electrical, telephone and cable television wires throughout the city.

"These things come from trees, you know, so anything that makes a tree rotten will make a pole rotten," Colby Lefeber said. He's a worker with Osmose Utility Services Inc. and was checking a pole Wednesday morning on Garfield Avenue in Batavia.

Batavia decided to check its poles after a July storm last year took down six poles on Western Avenue in one fell swoop. It discovered at least five of the poles had significant rot, according to a December report to the council's public utilities committee. City workers and elected officials were not sure the last time the poles were inspected, but one alderman estimated it was at least 15 years ago.

What makes a pole rotten? The causes can include water, fungi and insects.

Lefeber gestured to a part of a pole underground, revealed by their excavation.

"The way it is shredded like this, that's when you know you have shell rot," he said. Shell rot is when the pole is degrading from the outside in.

In comparison, ComEd undertook a yearly inspection program for its utility poles, starting in 2012, as part of its grid modernization plan. Its goal is to inspect 149,000 poles this year, according to spokesman Noelle Gaffney.

Through last week, ComEd had inspected 70,801 poles, replaced 1,330 of them and reinforced 603. In 2012, it inspected about 140,000 poles and reinforced or replaced 2,700 of them. It is inspecting poles systemwide in its service territory across northern Illinois.

When workers in Batavia hit the poles, they expect to hear a "thud" if the pole has rotted on the inside. If the core is good, the workers hear a hollow sound, Lefeber said.

They will also drill holes in the pole to determine the extent of any damage and dig 18 inches into the ground to inspect the poles and install a wax-coated wrapping to protect them from moisture and insects.

Such poles may also be given chemical treatments, including insecticides and copper-based preservatives, to preserve them if possible.

Electric operations manager Brian Bettin said the city of Batavia will get weekly reports from the work crews. At the end of the project, the city will have access to data and can then budget for replacements, he said.

Workers in Batavia will need to enter yards to check poles. They will not need to get into houses, however. They will be accompanied by a city worker.

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