To anyone traveling east on Highway 33 in the general direction of Randolph, there's change in the air - and in the landscape, and in the skyline.
The state's largest wind energy farm, We Energies' Glacier Hills Wind Park, is taking shape in the eastern section of the wind farm's 17,300-acre site in the towns of Scott and Randolph.
And, said Mike Strader, site manager for the Glacier Hills project, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office deserves a vote of thanks for keeping wind farm workers safe.
Strader's appearance Friday at the quarterly meeting of Columbia County's highway safety commission is becoming something of a habit, because the number of workers and unusually large machinery involved in the construction - much of which is going on or near a busy stretch of Highway 33 - has created safety challenges.
People are also reading…
But commission member Chuck Miller had a direct question: Are you behind schedule?
"We are," Strader replied.
The construction, which started in May, has been slowed by winds that are too brisk for the safe operation of the crane that assembles the parts of each turbine tower, he said.
"In June and July," he said, "we had precious few nonwindy days for work."
As a result, the project is about four weeks behind schedule.
Plans call for bringing in a second crew - and a second crane, with tracks instead of rubber tires - which would allow more towers to be built at a time, so that all 90 towers can be installed by December, Strader said.
Seventeen of the towers, nearly all of them in the town of Randolph, have been built, complete with installation of the three turbine blades on each tower. (One of the completed towers - called a "reference turbine," because it models the standard to which other turbines must be built - is on county Highway H in the town of Scott, near the Glacier Hills Wind Park administrative offices.)
Strader said the project reached a "big milestone" this week as the last truckload of tower parts arrived, meaning there will be a slowdown in the "oversize load" vehicles on the county's highways. Just one more tower blade is due to arrive soon from Colorado, which would complete the blade shipments.
The wind farm is divided geographically into eight "circuits," each with 15 turbines. Strader said the towers in the first circuit, on the eastern end of the project, could be energized as soon as Aug. 23.
With heavy traffic speeding along Highway 33, Strader said, none of this project has been easy.
However, the work of Columbia County sheriff's deputies has made it much easier, according to Strader.
Columbia County Sheriff's Office Lt. Doug Jarzynski, chairman of the highway safety commission, said the sheriff's office has stepped up speed limit enforcement in the Glacier Hills construction area, not only with speed boards and signs warning motorists of the construction area, but also with increased visible presence of deputies.
The effort is needed for the safety of the workers - including flaggers who sometimes stop traffic to make way for large truckloads - because "there is a lot of traffic on Highway 33."
Strader said the assistance of the deputies has made all the difference for safety in the work area.
"Our risk has gone significantly down," Strader said. "I wouldn't do another wind park without support like that."