By Jamie Wachter, Lake City Reporter
Construction crews are at work on a project Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) hopes it never needs.
The electric provider for 18,500 members in Columbia, Suwannee, Hamilton, and Lafayette counties is constructing a staging area for additional crews and equipment in case the region receives significant storm damage from a hurricane or tropical storm. The project is expected to be completed prior to the upcoming hurricane season, which officially begins June 1.
Jon Little, SVEC’s director of communications, said planning for the project began after the company sent a crew to the panhandle to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
“It’s really the result of lessons learned,” Little said, noting the co-op that SVEC helped at that time didn’t have room for all the extra help. Or the extra equipment needed to replace the countless poles that had been decimated.
“There was no place at their main facility for everything. The result was…not as efficient as they would have liked it to be.”
In fact, Little said there were traffic jams at the facility as crews returned at the end of the day or arrived for food and showers.
SVEC’s headquarters sits on 80 acres off of 100th Street, just south of Live Oak. That includes the seven acres to the west of the current facility that will be home to the new parking lot and staging area. Little said that portion had been full of trees, but they were harvested and sold a few years ago in order for the current project to materialize.
“We determined we needed a place where we could house crews, feed them if we need to, and store extra poles and other equipment that would be flowing in,” he said.
That resiliency plan includes a couple of new driveways to help prevent traffic jams and a parking lot, which will be utilized by employees now, but could be used for outside trucks in case of a bad storm. Little said there will also be dedicated areas set aside for additional poles and equipment as well as some retention ponds as required by the Suwannee River Water Management District to offset the three acres of impervious surfaces being constructed.
“It’s all about resiliency, being prepared for a big storm,” Little said.