WAHOO — Residents on Saunders County’s east side may start to see construction vehicles moving through the area this week, as work is set to begin on the long-discussed Platteview Solar Farm.
Project managers with AES Clean Energy and Blue Ridge Power appeared before the Saunders County Board of Supervisors on March 14 to put names to faces and provide an update to the board as the “mobilization” portion of the construction timeline begins.
Asher Steinbeck, a project manager with Blue Ridge Power, the solar farm’s construction contractor, said dirt work was set to begin this week with preliminary landscaping work taking place, too. By early May, the “structural mobilization” phase will have begun, Steinbeck said, which is when actual construction on the solar panels will start.
“You’ll start to see a ramp-up of manpower and people in the area, and that will go until the end of the year,” Steinbeck said.
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Construction will slow down by the end of the year, at which point the solar power harnessed by the farm will start to be commissioned to OPPD. The 500-acre solar plant that will generate 81 megawatts of power to OPPD.
Board members Tom Hrdlicka and Bill Reece expressed concern over traffic in the area, but Steinbeck said the construction workers will have travel systems in place to concentrate truck travel into less-passed stretches of road. He said the plan is to have trucks arrive at a central parcel, from which drivers and workers would be directed toward another location on the job site.
“This gives us one point of delivery so they can come to the same place, and then we can guide them as needed out to the final location,” Steinbeck said.
Brandon Berlin, a project manager with AES, said he wants two words to be emphasized as construction begins: “partnership” and “safety.” He said the partnership between AES, Blue Ridge and OPPD will bring a “substantial investment” to Saunders County.
He said safety is AES’s No. 1 concern. The project will employ workers from Saunders County and the region in skilled and unskilled positions.
“We don’t want to see anybody go home in a different situation than when they came to work, unless maybe it’s a little bit more money in the back pocket,” Berlin said.
AES Project Manager Austin Cowan said the solar farm’s leadership will return to county board meetings periodically to provide updates throughout construction.
In other county news, the board approved a bid to replace a water heater in the Law Enforcement and Judicial Center building. The building uses four water heaters, and the building’s original heaters are beginning to wear out. The county has already paid to replace one water heater, but a second water heater broke down late last year.
The board directed Saunders County maintenance worker Mike Holley to gather bids on new water heaters, and the bids came before the board at the March 14 meeting. Holley received bids from Grunwald Mechanical Contractors and Engineers, Hayes Mechanical and Veskerna Plumbing and Excavating. Hayes’ bid was the lowest, at $26,182 for one water heater. Grunwald’s bid came in at $30,078.76 and Veskerna’s was $30,500.
The three bidders also provided quotes for what the county could pay to replace all three old water heaters, and Hayes’ bid was again the lowest, at $78,546. The board chose to purchase one water heater for now and budget to replace one or more in the next year. It will take 14 to 16 weeks for the new water heater to arrive, Holley said.
Saunders County Treasurer Amber Scanlon also broke some news to the board regarding the county’s driver examination services. She said starting April 17, the driver examinations will only be held on Tuesdays, and the examiners will also no longer conduct commercial driver’s license testing.
“CDL requirements are becoming stricter and stricter by the federal government, and Wahoo does not have a correct facility,” Scanlon said. “They’ve been getting by using the fairgrounds for testing.”
Scanlon said the scaled-back availability is due in large part to staffing issues. But she said the county should consider itself lucky, as many western Nebraska counties don’t have driver examination services available for more than one day per month. She said Dodge, Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties all still provide CDL testing.
Finally, the board set a public hearing date of March 28 to discuss the new Saunders County Comprehensive Plan, which was completed over the past year by Marvin Planning Consultants of David City.