‘My mom builds power plants’

Everyone agreed on this point: Hitting the Brooklyn Bridge with our 7-million-pound generator would be a disaster.

My team and I were seated at a conference room table with PSEG executives and it was my responsibility to convince them that my team could barge the Heat Recovery Steam Generator – the 11-story heart of our new Bridgeport, Connecticut, power plant – beneath the landmark bridge without damaging either one.

If we were off by even a few inches, the result would be an embarrassing – and very expensive – PR nightmare.

* * *

PSEG hired me in 2002 to perform document control at the Bethlehem Energy Center as it was being built near Albany, New York. Over time, I was promoted to different roles within project controls, where I learned about budgeting, purchasing, scheduling and contracts.

All of that helped prepare me for my first assignment as a project manager in 2016, on the PSEG Fossil Monitoring and Diagnostics Center at our Cragwood facility. Since then, I have managed power plant projects at Bergen Gen, at Keys Energy Center in Maryland and in Sewaren, New Jersey, before taking on my current title as project manager for the Bridgeport 5 combined-cycle plant.

* * *

Last spring, my team was getting ready to move the HRSG from the Port of Coeymans in New York, where it was built, down the Hudson River, make the turn at the tip of Manhattan and travel up the East River into the open water of Long Island Sound. I had supervised construction of the HRSG by union workers at Coeymans for more than seven months, and now it was time to move it to its final destination in Bridgeport, where Bridgeport 5 is under construction.

A conservative version of the travel plan called for sailing the HRSG to Bridgeport by way of Montauk, around the far tip of Long Island. But a more direct route, using the East River, could save a week’s travel time – and, conservatively, more than $1 million in costs.

Each hour of the voyage was plotted to take advantage of tides, currents and other factors. The HRSG’s construction accounted for this trip, ensuring it was erected to an elevation of exactly 115 feet 4 inches, to fit beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was that precision and attention to detail that ultimately convinced our senior leadership team that we could successfully navigate the East River route. Our plan was a “go.”

* * *

I grew up in Virginia and earned my degree at Auburn University in political science – not engineering or construction. My father, a lobbyist, never expected me to follow his path. He told me, ‘If you want to be president, you can.’ He always had confidence in me and always supported me.

I suppose it was that support from my dad that helped me succeed in construction – a field traditionally dominated by men.

According to the U.S. Labor Department, women hold fewer than 9 percent of construction-related jobs. Most are administrative, not out in the field. Just 7 percent of construction management jobs are held by women.

Those statistics might reflect a challenging work environment, but many of those women – like me – see a future in construction for their daughters.

* * *

As the 400-foot barge, assisted by three tug boats, began its journey on May 14, an important detail was the time the barge would arrive at the Brooklyn Bridge – exactly 3:52 a.m. on May 16 – so the HRSG could pass during a full moon low tide, when the river is at its lowest.

That precise timing would give us the room we needed to clear the bridge deck with just under 7 feet to spare – low enough that a person standing on the HRSG could touch the bridge as we floated by.

* * *

My daughter, Lauren, at PSEG Power’s Sewaren 7 Generating Station.

When I started my career, a woman building a power plant was a rare sight. As I get older, we are definitely more commonplace.

My daughters – Lauren, 7, and Dylan, 4 – aren’t strangers to my job. They have visited work sites with me, wearing their own pint-sized PPE gear. As a result, some men I work with started to bring their own daughters – not just their sons – to see what they do, and see careers in construction firsthand.

I think it’s important that girls experience all the opportunities that are possible for them. They can be just as interested in construction as boys.

* * *

Early on May 15, the HRSG encountered fog just south of Newburgh, New York, forcing the tugs to pull over and wait for the fog to lift. This cut three hours from our schedule – thankfully, we had built seven hours into the schedule for these kinds of issues.  Later that afternoon, a line of thunderstorms began to form in upstate New York and continued to gain strength while heading south toward New City and the HRSG. Fortunately, the HRSG was fastened to its barge in a way that could withstand winds as high as 80 mph.

Those storms were some of the strongest in decades – sending hail and small tornadoes across New York and Connecticut, with winds as high as 115 mph. The storm even created a “meteotsunami” – a meteorological event that can raise water levels anywhere from several inches to several feet – that affected coastlines from New England to Delaware.

The tug boat captains were prepared for inclement weather. They turned the barge 180 degrees, now heading north, and tucked it into the cliffs on the west side of the Hudson, just north of the George Washington Bridge, to shield it from a direct hit as the storm gusts passed through.

* * *

When I was younger, I learned the value of taking time to step back and listen. So much of what I do today, I learned by listening to the men I worked beside.

There will always be those who are skeptical of women in a field like construction. Once they see that you know what you’re doing, that skepticism goes away. If you treat them with respect, that respect will ultimately be returned.

According to a 2015 Power Magazine survey, nine out of 10 women employed in the power sector said they would recommend power generation to a young woman who showed an interest in the field.

Count me among them.

* * *

Thanks to our experienced tug pilots, the rest of the HRSG’s trip, including under the Brooklyn Bridge and through Hell Gate, was uneventful. The team actually arrived in Bridgeport 90 minutes ahead of schedule.

Today, the HRSG is on its permanent foundation while construction continues to tie it into the power plant.

* * *

On the day the HRSG was to begin its voyage down the Hudson River, I woke my girls at 4:30 a.m. to load them into the car to see their mom’s HRSG sail past Newburgh. I told them, ‘I know you guys have heard me talk about it, but I want you to see it.’

We arrived at the river just in time to see it from the Newburgh Beacon Ferry dock.

Lauren said, ‘Mom, you built that?’

‘Yes, I did.’

‘My mom builds power plants.’

 

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