New pump house safer and just as beautiful

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The Port Huron Mill pumps its process water from the St. Clair River, located approximately one mile from the site. The pump house was built in 1925 and the electrical primary room hasn’t changed much since that time.

Lionel Ellerkamp, Engineering Manager, Port Huron Mill

Following new direction set down by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), the facility was tested and proved inadequate according to the new Electrical Safety Standard. As a result, the mill launched a project to modernize the 4800 volt distribution system that resides within the pump house.

Technical and community considerations

Due to the original building’s construction, there was not enough space inside to construct a new electrical room while, at the same time, ensuring that the existing primary room remained intact, energized and safe for personnel. This meant that the new lineup of switchgear would have to be located outdoors. The question was where.

There had to be eight feet of clearance in front of the equipment to allow for proper access and maintenance. On the one hand, this didn’t pose a problem since Domtar owns the 23-foot parcel of property north of the building’s fence line. However, there was another important consideration.

The Port Huron Mill’s river pump house is located in a premier tourist location, with the Blue Water Bridge parkway to the north and Pine Grove Park, with the Huron Lightship, to the south. This parkland along the St. Clair River is a favorite hangout for Port Huron residents and visitors… and rightly so.

So, very quickly this project became more than a matter of electrical compliance for the mill and security for the public. It became a beautification initiative. Considerable effort was therefore put into designing a new building perimeter that would enhance both the appearance and security of the pump house without distracting from the area’s natural beauty.

An ingenious solution

The plan involved building an alcove on the north side of the existing pump house, where we could place the new switchgear. Surrounding the alcove would be a new perimeter wall, finished with fake windows and the same brick as the old building’s exterior wall. Today, if you look at the building from the north, it looks virtually identical to the original 1925-built structure.

Every year at Thanksgiving, during the annual holiday outage, we take the opportunity to complete projects that impact the mill’s infrastructure. So it was on that day in 2011, that we closed the loop on this initiative. With the pump house shut down, the old electrical system was disconnected and the new switchgear connected. Before the end of the day, the new system was tested and commissioned by the Detroit Edison Co.

The final phase of the project was to construct the new security fencing. We went with new welded steel, industrial fencing, which provides improved security and adds to the overall attractiveness of the pump house.

Community relations success

The reaction of local residents to this project has been very positive. In fact, our Mill Manager, Rick Vannan, received a letter from Kimberly A. Harmer, Planning and Community Development Director for the City of Port Huron, expressing gratitude for the mill’s consideration of community aesthetic and pride in the structure’s construction.

She wrote that she was impressed with the vision for a facility that “would complement the community’s goal of a safe and attractive waterfront”, enthusing that “it looks fantastic!”.

Ms. Harmer concluded her letter with the following words of thanks: “The City, on behalf of its residents and visitors, appreciates the extra effort that was given this project by you and your staff. Thank you for being an active part of Port Huron and for your continued investment in the community.”

High praise that makes everyone here at the Port Huron Mill very proud!

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