Thursday, November 17, 2011

Water Social Networking Site Matches Water Providers With End Users

ENR Art Dept. Social Media: A Special Report Related Links: Hashtag This: Social Media Risks and Rewards in Construction VHB/Eng-Wong, Taub and PB: Building Client Relationships with Social Media Corps Finds Facebook Excels for Flood Emergency Communications Writing the Social Media Policy Handbook at Burns & McDonnell, HOK Social Media Reshape Job Hunting and Recruitment at Smith Group, CH2M Hill In Social Media, Some Conversations Are Best Kept Private

Developers of a new website are hoping to use the power of social networking to launch what they call a "grassroots water revolution."

Englewood, Colo.-based CH2M Hill created the site WaterMatch and formally launched it at the Water Environment Federation’s annual conference on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles. The website is designed to help promote the beneficial re-use of municipal effluent at the local level.

According to Jan Dell, vice president of CH2M Hill and the creator of the website, agricultural and industrial users—particularly those in developing countries—often don’t know where to find municipal effluent for their water needs and, as a result, will use fresh water.

The WaterMatch website attempts to address existing silos by using geospatial mapping and social networking to match agricultural and industrial users seeking water with municipal wastewater treatment facilities.

Once online, water users access the WaterMatch map to find wastewater treatment plants close to their current and potential future operations and then use the social networking function to connect with the utilities operating those plants.

Dell says she hopes the website leads to beneficial re-use projects around the world. She says the problems with water scarcity are well known—1.2 billion people lack access to improved water supply, and 2.4 billion lack access to sanitation, she says. "[Through the website] we are trying to make progress by making projects happen," Dell says.

Open to Everyone

CH2M Hill says the website is non-commercial and open to everyone, including engineering firms that might want to help industrial clients find sources of municipal effluent for future facilities.

It’s a "win-win-win," Dell says. She says, the website, if successful, would be good for the environment because it would promote beneficial re-use of water rather than drawing from limited freshwater supplies.

Further, it would help municipalities because industrial and agricultural users frequently pay for use of the effluent and thus provide cash-strapped municipalities with a source of income.

It also would help industrial and agricultural users find a source of water close to current or future sites or facilities as well as help contractors and engineers because pipelines and conveyance systems would have to be built to transfer the water.

A number of powerful organizations have lined up to support WaterMatch, including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and IPIECA, the global organization of oil and gas companies.

"Initiatives like WaterMatch are a step forward in responsible water management and partnerships between industries and municipalities," says Jon Freedman, global government relations leader for Schenectady, N.Y.-based GE Power & Water, Water & Process Technologies. "We’re excited to be a part of this program."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Weekly Products Snapshot: Solar Panel Pile Driver, Articulated Dump Truck, Air-Pressure Sensor

Slide Show The Doosan DA40 Articulated Dump Truck boasts a 40-metric-ton payload and a dump volume of 31.9 cu yd. It is powered by a 500-hp Interim Tier 4 diesel engine with 1,750 lb-ft of torque at 1,300 rpm. The truck has a sloping body design with a low rear frame, resulting in greater overall stability. It features independent front suspension and constant six-wheel drive. Doosan Infracore; 770-831-2200;

We look at the latest in construction products, including a highly sensitive air-pressure sensor, an articulated dump truck and a pile driver designed for installing solar farms. Click on the image to begin the slide show.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Israel Taps Italian Firm To Build Floating Offshore LNG Terminal

Israel Natural Gas Lines has signed an agreement with Italy's Micoperi Marine Contractors, Ravenna, to plan and construct a floating offshore terminal along the country's central Mediterranean coast to better ensure its supply of liquified natural gas.

The $140-million project is expected to help Israel meet growing demand and counteract not only undependable natural-gas supplies from Egypt but also the current unavailability of supply from a large offshore gas field. Discovered in 2009 about 50 miles west of Haifa in the Mediterranean Sea , the Tamar field has an estimated 8.3 trillion cu ft of natural-gas deposits, but it is not set to begin production until 2013.

Israel's National Infrastructure Ministry ordered the floating-terminal project to be expedited in February, after Egypt cut off its gas supply in the wake of unrest following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In addition, Israel's sole producing gas field is depleting faster than expected.

"This facility is of tremendous strategic importance for Israel and will enable the country to guarantee its energy supplies," says Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau. He says the timetable for the liquified-natural-gas (LNG) terminal was critical to enable Israel to deal with a gas supply shortage.

The floating terminal is to be located 10 kilometers off the coast of the city of Hadera. The facility, with a capacity of 2.5 billion cu meters, is set for completion at the end of 2012. It will include construction of a submerged-turret loading buoy, designed to connect with a regasification vessel to receive regasified LNG being supplied by APL Norway AS, Oslo.

Israel Electric Corp. is in advanced talks with Houston-based Excelerate Energy LLC on LNG supplies that would be delivered on a tanker with regasification capabilities.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fla. Public Counsel Calls Botched Repair at Crystal River "A Huge Construction Negligence Case"

Florida Office of the Public Counsel Kelly says utility apparently mismanaged steam generator replacement project.

Courtesy Progress Energy's Florida Public Service Commisssion public filing Root-cause analysis report by Performance Improvement International identified seven factors contributing to delamination, including tendon stresses and detensioning sequence. Related Links: Florida Utility: No Way To Predict Nuke Plant Cracking Japanese Disaster Puts Focus On U.S. Powerplant Problems

Florida’s Public Counsel J.R. Kelly calls the separation of a concrete wall at Progress Energy Florida’s Crystal River-3 nuclear unit "a huge construction negligence case," and says that Progress does not appear to have been very prudent in its decision making.

In an interview, Kelly said Progress Energy Florida appears to have seriously mismanaged the steam generator replacement project that it began in September 2009 at its Crystal River-3 nuclear unit. If further analysis confirms that view, the utility should not be permitted to recover costs for repair and replacement power costs from its ratepayers, he said. Kelly represents Progress Energy’s ratepayers in the case pending in front of the Florida Public Service Commission. He said he is also concerned about how much of the $2.3 billion costs for damage and for replacement power will be covered by the utility’s insurance.

"Right now we are smack dab in the middle of discovery and depositions, and we have not formulated a final position on" whether Progress Energy prudently managed the steam generator replacement project, Kelly said.

"But a lot of signs are certainly leading us to believe that Progress was not prudent in its decision-making ... If that turns out to be the case, we will argue very strongly [to the Florida Public Service Commission] that ratepayers should not have to bear the costs" of repairing Crystal River and providing replacement power. "This is becoming a huge construction negligence case," he added.

Kelly says he has several concerns, beginning with Progress Energy's decision to manage the project itself rather than have, San Francisco-based Bechtel or SGT, a nuclear engineering joint venture held by Areva and URS — the two companies that have managed virtually all steam generator replacement projects in the U.S. — take that role.

He also said he is concerned that Progress Energy hired engineers and subcontractors with little or no experience with containment-building construction to plan and undertake the project's tendon detensioning and concrete cutting; and that the tendons were detensioned sequentially, and not non-sequentially as in other similar projects.

Progress, in its filings with the Florida Public Service Commission, says that because there was no way to predict the delamination of the wall, based on standard engineering practices and analyses, and that its actions were reasonable and prudent: "Nothing the Company could have done, based on what management knew or should have known at the time, would have prevented the delamination and subsequent extended outage."

Forensic report

A root-cause analysis performed by Performance Improvement International, Oceanside, Calif. highlighted seven factors that caused the delamination: tendon stresses, radial stresses, design for stress concentration factors, concrete strength properties, aggregates, de-tensioning sequence and scope and removing concrete.

Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said, "We remain committed to fully addressing the steam generator replacement and delamination issues through the ongoing, open [PSC] docket. As such, it is appropriate for us to only address specific questions related to these matters in the appropriate regulatory arena under the schedule set forth by the PSC."

Grant continued, "We spent five years and tens of thousands of hours carefully planning the steam generator replacement project. Working with outside experts, it was determined that the process of creating a temporary construction opening in the containment building wall was the best option. The process had been used successfully in numerous similar projects throughout the industry."

"Analysis has shown that the delamination could not have been predicted," Grant said. "Nothing the company could have done would have prevented the delamination and extended outage. This first-of-a-kind event has changed the way the industry analyzes post-tensioned, pre-stressed concrete structures."

Insurance claims

Another unknown in the case, Kelly said, is how much Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd. (NEIL), a mutual insurance company for nuclear-unit owners, will ultimately reimburse Progress Energy for repair and replacement power costs.

Executives at Progress Energy, Progress Energy's corporate parent, said during a November 3 earnings conference call that NEIL's failure to of to make any Cystal River-3 replacement-power insurance payments to Progress Energy in the third quarter should not be interpreted as a sign of trouble.

"NEIL is going through a very deliberative process and has hired outside help to review the claims" Progress Energy has made, Progress CFO Mark Mulhern said in a response to an energy analyst's question. "I wouldn't read anything into" the fact that NEIL did not make any replacement power-related insurance payments to Progress Energy in the third quarter.

NEIL to date has given Progress Energy $136 million in insurance proceeds for repair costs and $162 million for replacement power costs; Progress executives said during last week's conference call that $48 million in repair-cost proceeds are still due from NEIL, as are $162 million in replacement-power proceeds.

Progress Energy as of September 30 has spent $229 million on repairs. The utility also has spent $459 million on replacement power, $324 million of which it expects to be reimbursed by NEIL.

NEIL insurance coverage rules limit "per-event" reimbursements to $2.25 billion for property damage/repairs and $490 million for replacement power. Asked for a response, Wilmington, Del.-based NEIL declined any comment.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Top Owners: State DOTs See Lean Times Ahead

PHOTO COURTESY VDOT / Trevor Wrayton Innovative financing Virginia DOT plans to expand use of PPP on projects in the suburbs of D.C. Related Links: ENR's Top Owners List and Top Owners Sourcebook Features

After years of steady gains fueled by record funding levels, departments of transportation across the U.S. face lean times ahead. With funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act largely spent and most states grappling with declines in revenue, the impact of the economic downturn is hitting the transportation sector hard.

Highway and bridge construction starts nationwide could drop to $50.2 billion in 2012 from a peak of $58.2 billion in 2010, according McGraw-Hill Construction estimates.

For some states, the cuts would be severe. "Construction awards have averaged $1.2 billion over the last five years in Missouri," says Kevin Keith, MoDOT director. "Over the next five years, it will be $600 million—that's lean times."

Like many DOT directors, Keith is learning to live with less. This year, MoDOT moved to cut staff by 1,200 and close 131 facilities to free up $117 million for its capital improvement program. "We're focusing every dollar we can on keeping Missouri's roads and bridges in as good a condition as we can," he adds.

In New York state, tight budgets come at a crucial time for aging infrastructure. More than 6,000 of the state's roughly 17,400 bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to NYSDOT. In addition, numerous roads and bridges suffered damage from Hurricane Irene in August. "We're in a situation where, if the funds aren't there, we may have to look at closing some roads and bridges," says Joan McDonald, NYSDOT commissioner.

McDonald sees challenging times as an opportunity to pursue alternative solutions. The state has limited experience with alternative delivery methods, but those options could gain traction in light of its funding challenges.

Design-build has been met with some resistance in the past. However, in October, the state awarded a $14.1-million design-build contract for reconstruction of bridges and six miles of road damaged by Hurricane Irene. Halmar International, Pearl River, N.Y., with design partner McLaren Engineering Group, West Nyack, N.Y., was the best-value team selected. Work is expected to take up to five months and be completed by February.

Further, state lawmakers are considering the use of public-private partnerships to fund projects.

Innovative Financing

"Creative financing, creative delivery methods and making hard decisions on what gets done are what's necessary in this environment," McDonald says.

Virginia DOT expects to expand use of PPP to address some of its capacity issues, particular in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Following in the steps of the ongoing $2-billion, 14-mile high-occupancy toll-lanes project on Interstate 495, VDOT is pursuing plans to add 29 miles of HOT lanes along the I-95 corridor.

VDOT is working with a consortium comprising Melbourne, Australia-based Transurban and Irving, Texas-based Fluor Corp. on the three-year construction project, which could break ground as early as spring 2012.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Corps of Engineers Focuses on Costs, Strategy of Mississippi Basin Flood Repairs

Slide Show Photo courtesy of USACE The St. Louis District operated the emergency spillway at Wappapello Lake, Mo., for the first time since 1945. It caused about 40 ft of scouring into bedrock and washed out a section of road. Related Links: Corps Unveils Public National Levee Database Corps Pulls Out All the Stops To Cope With Rising River Corps of Engineers' List of 93 Mississippi Basin Critical Flood Repair Projects (PDF)

As time races toward fall floods and potential disaster along the Mississippi River and Tributaries System, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is at work on 10 projects—damaged by high water this past spring and summer—that the agency deems most critical to protect life and safety. This work is worth an estimated $75.8 million, but the Corps wants to focus on the long term. Both the public and policymakers should realize the U.S. faces increased risk to life, property, navigation and economics until the entire MR&T is restored to its pre-2011 strength—a feat that will require about $2 billion and take up to 15 years at current funding rates.

In Congress, both houses appear poised to fund about $1 billion in repairs, but the Supercommittee that is supposed to deliver a proposal by Thanksgiving to cut more than $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years has yet to present its decisions, which will either make specific cuts or, if the committee cannot agree, trigger automatic across-the-board cuts.

"We want the states and the public who live behind these levees to know we currently do not have the funding to do these items on the list," says Scott Whitney, regional flood-risk manager for the Corps' Mississippi Valley Division. He says the levees performed, but they were stressed and now may not be able to handle even moderate flooding. He predicts "an extended period of risk for an extended period of time."

Since May, Corps engineers have compiled damage assessments and rough construction-cost estimates on the Mississippi and its subsystems from Cairo, Ill., to the Gulf of Mexico.

Further west, flooding in the Souris and Missouri rivers and tributaries continued through September, so assessments are just beginning there. Repairs won't be possible before winter. Thus, many of those areas will enter a new spring flood season with increased vulnerability.

"This is a big deal, and it's not going away any time soon," Whitney says. "Even with an endless pot of money, considering the magnitude and geographic scale of the damage, we can't turn that many projects that fast."

The Top 10

The Corps has identified 93 projects in the MR&T that comprise almost 3,000 damaged elements that should be repaired by the fall flood season. Estimates range from $704 million to $793 million. Of the 93, the Corps ranks only its top 10 priorities. The Corps cannot compile a complete, ranked list until it assesses damages in tributaries north of Cairo and weighs all MR&T needs against other priorities.

The top-priority project is to restore to a safe elevation the approximately four miles of levee blown up to operate the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway. The levee protects 133,000 acres of farmland. "We pulled funds from flood-response money to make the area safe by getting rid of debris and blast material and filling a 45-ft-deep scour hole that crossed a county road," Whitney says.

The Corps also built a temporary berm along the line of the previous levee but needs $18.5 million more to bring it to +55 ft by Nov. 30. That elevation is shy of the +62 ft design height. Whitney says the shortfall translates into a 6% chance of overtopping. "At +51 feet, it would have been exceeded 12 times over the past 20 years," he says.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jefferson County Files for Bankruptcy After Talks With Creditors Break Down

Related Links: Jefferson County Commissioners Send Refinancing Plan to Alabama Legislature Jefferson County, Ala., Commissioners in Last-Ditch Renegotiations Over Muni Debt Spending on Sewers, Risky Financing Push Alabama County Near Bankruptcy

Jefferson County, Ala., commissioners, faced with massive sewer-system debt and loss of a major revenue source, filed for bankruptcy Nov. 9, saying efforts to negotiate with creditors had failed and future talks would not be productive.

With $4.1 billion in sewer, school and general obligation debt, the filing would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, outpacing the $1.7 billion bankruptcy by Orange County, Calif., in 1994.

Jefferson County, with about 658,000 residents, is the state’s largest and its cities include Birmingham.

David Carrington, commission president, and Jimmie Stephens, finance chairman, have been negotiating with creditors, including JPMorgan Chase, since August in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. Earlier negotiations had been led by John S. Young Jr., named receiver for the sewer system last year.

Carrington and Stephens reached a tentative agreement in September that would let the county refinance $2.05 billion in sewer debt, levy a single-digit rate increase, mandate sewer hookups for new construction and create an independent board to run the system until the debt is repaid. They have been working on a final agreement to present to Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who would call a special legislative session to enact laws to deal with the crisis.

However, in the last two weeks they ran into a $140-million financial gap and possible higher rate increases for non-residential users, Carrington told reporters after the filing.

"The rate increases got back to 8.2% for residential, but other classes could go to infinity," he said. The settlement would have had all users paying 6.5%, less than the 8.2% originally planned. Carrington could not offer a timetable for emerging from bankruptcy, but in a statement said it "would be facilitated by enactment of legislation by the Alabama State Legislature to address the General Fund shortfall."

That shortfall was caused when the state Supreme Court ruled in March that the county’s occupational tax was invalid. That tax made up more than 40% of unrestricted revenues and the county had to slash more than $30 million from its budget, including laying off more than 500 employees, eliminating another 160 vacant jobs, closing four satellite courthouses and cutting other services.

The county also had about $20 million in costs related to recovery from April tornadoes, the commission said in a resolution authorizing bankruptcy. Bentley, who has repeatedly said he would convene a special legislative session to deal with the issues, said he was disappointed by the move.

"The settlement that the county rejected today would have reduced the sewer debt by more than $1 billion and significantly reduced proposed sewer rate increases," he said in a statement.

"By filing for bankruptcy, the county commission now relinquishes control of its affairs into the hands of a federal bankruptcy judge," he said.