Windmill topples while traveling through downtown Falls; 62-ton cylinder falls, ties up traffic for hours
Menomonee Falls – A steel cylinder weighing more than a herd of elephants tumbled off a truck here Thursday and snarled traffic all day, prompting state officials to halt all such future shipments.
Bound for a wind farm in Iowa, the 55-foot section of windmill fell onto the road shortly before 10 a.m. as startled onlookers watched in the center of the village’s downtown business district.
“It just went ‘thud,’ ” eyewitness Joyce Block said.
The colossal cargo came to a rest at Main St. and Appleton Ave., both state highways, where it blocked traffic throughout the day until about 9:25 p.m. and left downtown merchants cut off from their customers.
“You can’t even get into my place,” said Sal D’Acquisto, owner of Sal’s Pub & Grill, before the intersection was cleared.
Crews ordered at least three large cranes to try hoisting the 62-ton roadblock out of the way, in a delicate process.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation had begun issuing permits for an expected 140 shipments of windmill parts continuing throughout the summer. A handful or so had already passed through the village in recent days without incident.
But village officials interceded after Thursday’s mishap and persuaded the state to suspend all permits issued to a trucking company for Gamesa Wind US, a manufacturer and operator of wind energy systems.
The Philadelphia-based company is manufacturing the steel cylinders through a contractor in Manitowoc, and the cargo was being trucked across the state on a route that was selected based on where overpasses were tall enough and bridges sturdy enough to handle the giant loads.
The cargo and truck together weighed a combined 115 tons – about half as much as the Statue of Liberty.
Menomonee Falls Village Administrator Mark Fitzgerald said he would insist that the state find a different route.
Noting the disruption to downtown businesses and motorists, Fitzgerald said: “It absolutely has created an impact. I’m just pleased that DOT is going to look at an alternative.”
The truck involved in Thursday’s accident lost its load while inching around a sharp curve from southbound Appleton Ave. onto westbound Main St., which is also Highway 74.
The cargo was destined for a wind farm being developed in northern Iowa.
Gamesa spokesman Michael Peck said he was unsure how his company would respond to Wisconsin’s action temporarily halting shipment of its products.
Peck, however, said the company was grateful that nobody was hurt in Thursday’s accident, and he said Gamesa was helping crews to clear the Menomonee Falls roadblock.
“This has never happened to us before,” he said.
Peck said it appeared that the steel cylinder broke loose from the truck because of what he termed a “defect” in the mechanism intended to hold the cargo in place.
Representatives of the trucking firm, identified as Anderson Trucking Service Inc. of St. Cloud, Minn., could not be reached for comment. The company’s Web site states that Anderson Trucking has 15 years of experience as “the top wind energy transportation provider in North America.”
Kathleen Nichols, permit unit supervisor for the state transportation department, said the company was ordered to halt all its windmill shipments Thursday, even those that might have already embarked from Manitowoc.
“Those vehicles have been told not to move,” she said. “We’re backing everything off.”
If the state cannot find another suitable route, officials will try to negotiate with Menomonee Falls to find acceptable restrictions, such as allowing the shipments to continue during off-peak business hours.
Nichols noted that the state has final authority over both Main St. and Appleton Ave., because both are state highways. But she also suggested that the state would yield to the village’s wishes in this instance.
“I think we’ll be able to work it out,” she said. “And if we can’t, we’ll say back to the company, ‘You’ve got to find some other way to Iowa.’ ”
By Scott Williams
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
24 May 2007
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