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Welders at River Operations keep AEP afloat

by on April 24, 2013
AEP employs welders at three facilities that are part of the company’s River Operations organization.

(Story by Tom Holliday)

Editor’s note: (This article concludes our series highlighting the contributions of AEP’s professional welders during National Welding Month. Today’s article features the welding activities at AEP River Operations.)

Most employees know that AEP employs welders at its power plants and its plant maintenance organizations. But they might not immediately remember that AEP has other business units that rely on the work of professional welders. AEP also employs welders at three facilities that are part of the company’s River Operations organization.

AEP River Operations’ welders describe the work on the company’s boats and barges as difficult and demanding but satisfying.

“We basically have two different operations where we rely on welders,” said Tom Reeves, senior manager – Gulf Operations. “Our shipyard in Belle Chasse, La., deals mainly with repairs to towboats, including boats owned by other companies. Separately, our operations along the Mississippi River at Algiers and Convent are involved in cleaning and repairing barges. They’re typically welding cracks and doing other repairs to make the barges ready for their next loading.”

The shipyard has four in-house welders and between 20 and 25 contract welders who are all certified to exacting standards established by the American Bureau of Shipping. Scott Koenig, who serves as superintendent of Shipyard Operations, says the welders are critical to the shipyard’s daily mission.

“About 90 percent of the work we do is for other companies. About 10 percent of our work is done for AEP towboats,” he said. “We work hard to make sure we have qualified welders available, and that their skills are top notch. A lot of the work we do is on fuel tanks and it’s critical that it’s done properly and safely.”

Mike Easley, a crew leader at Belle Chasse Shipyard, got into welding some 20 years ago because he felt it offered a good opportunity to find steady employment, and he was right. “I went to welding school after working in a nickel refinery doing boiler work. I thought that being a welder would give me the best chance for regular work and providing for my family and I’ve been able to do that here at River Operations,” he said.

Ken Honora has been a welder at Belle Chasse for 30 years and says the work can be difficult at times. “It’s definitely tough on the body. You’ve got the heat, or the cold, the smoke and the fumes. It’s a demanding field and you have to love it to stay with it,” he said. “But you definitely enjoy the satisfaction of doing the job, of knowing that you’re doing something that a lot of people can’t do.”

The operations at Convent and Algiers employ 18 in-house welders and 10 contractors. “They’re just as important to the success of AEP River Operations,” said Reeves. “They keep our equipment up to AEP standards. They clean, inspect and repair our barges so we can provide a steady stream of seaworthy equipment to keep the operation humming.”

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