Protecting Outage Workers, Wildlife

Yards Creek Generating Station

August 28, 2018

These timber rattlesnakes are some of the protected species ECSi consultants will be monitoring during Yards Creek’s outage to keep the reptiles and workers safe.

Two different kinds of venomous snakes, two species of turtles and one type of toad. That’s what workers and wildlife specialists must look out for this fall while safely conducting outage work in the densely forested area surrounding Yards Creek Generating Station.

Workers will be performing outage tasks at the station, located near Blairstown, N.J., during active reptile season, when gravid (pregnant) timber rattlesnakes nest in wooded areas by the plant. Northern copperhead snakes, wood turtles, eastern box turtles and fowler’s toads are also native to the area and must be protected if encountered.

To keep workers and wildlife safe, Yards Creek has partnered with Environmental Consultation Services inc (ECSi), a contract firm of biologists led by principal Kevin Keat, a Licensed Professional Wetlands Scientist and one of only a few Qualified Venomous Snake Monitors in the state of New Jersey.

“The main activities we’ll be monitoring are the influx and outflux of site truck traffic to prevent snakes and turtles from being run over,” said Kevin. “We’ll also monitor staging and work areas by the reservoir to protect crews and the snakes from negative encounters with each other.”

The wildlife safety protocols for outage contractors and employees have been outlined in the station’s Reptile and Amphibian Protection Plan, recently amended with assistance from ECSi. All outage workers and employees will attend training sessions to review plan specifics prior to work commencing. Sessions will cover technical procedures, along with visuals of the impacted reptile/amphibian species and information on their natural history and behavioral characteristics.

“We’re directing everyone on site to completely avoid approaching any snakes and to contact us immediately if snakes are spotted,” explained Kevin. “Our training sessions will highlight all the things workers must do to be responsible for the plan. For example, when you’re in a vehicle, you can’t come any closer than 10 meters to the protected species.”

“If there’s a gravid female in the way in the work or staging area, we must rope off the area with orange construction fence, put up safety signs and work around it. Gravid females are not very mobile. They tend to stay in one general area for the duration of their pregnancy, and it’s important we not disturb them.”

ECSi is permitted to move any of the reptiles out of harm’s way as a protective measure. Right now, during the plant’s pre-outage stage, one ECSi environmental monitor is available onsite every day to address wildlife situations. As outage activity ramps up next month, more monitors will be present to support first- and second-shift outage crews.

“In September, we’ll have two working shifts of wildlife monitors. The New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Endangered & Nonendangered Species Program requires we have at least two monitors present at the transition of shifts each day,” said Kevin.

This is particularly important as the season shifts from summer to fall. The snakes feed at night during the summer, but as the weather cools, they’ll be more active in the early evening right before dark – when the second shift starts.

“At night, monitors will have headlamps on to assist with visual surveys of the area,” added Kevin. “We are committed to ensuring everyone completes their outage projects safely, without any disturbance to the wildlife. The location may present some unique challenges, but we’re prepared.”