Facilities manager at power utility derails pigeons

R.W. Delaney
Tags: workplace safety

When you work for a large, publicly owned electric utility, your job and reputation are always on the line. Second-guessing is not uncommon, and managers can take heavy flak for the decisions they make and the actions they take.

Ted Wilson, facilities manager for Gainesville Utilities in Gainesville, Fla., knows the ropes and the risks. He is facilities manager of the utility’s Deerhaven Generating Station and has been with the utility for seven years.

As one of the larger generators of electricity in the state using primarily coal, Gainesville Utilities operates a huge track hopper building where railroad cars pull in to deliver coal.

"The structure is open at both ends," Wilson says. "It’s big enough to hold three railroad cars at once and twice as tall as the cars."

The wide-open building was easy pickings for pigeons searching for shelter. And come they did. Beginning approximately thee years ago, pigeons flocked to the track hopper.

"Twenty to 30 pigeons began roosting on the steel I-beams," Wilson says. "They created a big problem with odors and mess.”

The birds became "a major irritant to workers." Both the smell and the look were unpleasant and not acceptable in the workplace.

"Dead birds that fall out of nests are not appetizing," Wilson says, underscoring the issue.

To make matters worse, if the facilities manager did nothing, the problem would only multiply – literally.

Wilson ’s 30 prior years in the Navy did not prepare him for this battle. His predecessors, he knew, had tried some "unmentionable" methods to deter the pigeons from roosting, nesting and messing. These methods had little permanent effect; the open-ended track hopper building was simply too attractive to birds and, by practical necessity, too accessible to prevent their entry.

Then Wilson read about an ultrasonic device produced by Bird-X Inc. of Chicago which could repel birds without harming them. The company’s QuadBlaster QB-4 unit claimed to deliver ultra high-frequency sound waves, beyond the normal human hearing threshold, that annoyed birds and discouraged them from inhabiting areas wherever the disturbing waves penetrated.

Wilson ordered one of the units.

"First, we pressure-washed the building and cleaned it up. Then, we installed the QB-4 unit," he recalls.

He also remembers clearly the ribbing that accompanied his ordering the unit.

"I took a lot of heat from co-workers for buying a black box with funny-colored lights on it," he confesses.

His colleagues and crew teased him about being "taken in by black magic."

"You must admit that ‘ultrasonic’ sounded unbelievable,” he says. “But I was desperate; I was willing to try anything. Besides, for only $500, I thought I’d give it a try.”

The unit was easy to install.

"Just put it up and plug it in," says Wilson.

His crew placed it on a beam about 20 feet above the floor. They turned the unit on.

The birds high-tailed it out of the track hopper and haven’t come back. That was three years ago.

"The pigeons never returned," Wilson says. "The QB-4 unit keeps out all birds, even grackles; and it’s a humane solution. I was pleasantly surprised that it worked."

Wilson also likes to count up the savings for Gainesville Utilities. Pressure-washing the building takes two men working two days, plus the cost of repainting, he calculates. That savings easily covers the cost of the unit. And, the cost of operating a QB-4 unit is minimal; "it’s like operating a 100-watt light bulb," he notes.

Wilson has since purchased a second QB-4 unit for use in an open storage building. Nobody teased him about it this time.

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