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.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

California Earthquake Research Pioneer Joe Penzien Dies at 86

Joseph Penzien, a University of California-Berkeley engineering professor who developed the world's first modern shake table in 1972 and pioneered groundbreaking earthquake engineering research and academics, died on Sept. 19 in Redwood City, Calif. He was 86.



Penzien, a 35-year teaching veteran at the school, was a key developer of its programs in structural dynamics and earthquake engineering, "which many considered to be the best in the world," according to a 2004 oral history conducted by Robert Reitherman, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering.

An introduction by Berkeley professor Anil Chopra noted that while Penzien taught all of the program's courses, "his unique contribution was the first course on random vibrations." Developed in 1961, it was "the earliest course on this subject offered in a civil engineering department in the U.S." he said, further noting that it "became legendary for how tough it was and enhanced his already-existing reputation of teaching difficult subjects."

Penzien later co-authored a landmark 1975 textbook, "Dynamics of Structures." The book was groundbreaking "in terms of its broad scope, comprehensive coverage and philsophy," said Chopra.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Vermont, Northeast States Struggle To Recover From Hurricane Irene and Other Storms

Photo courtesy of Vermont Agency of Transportation Hoping to restore roads before winter snow arrives, National Guard troops help fix three miles of state road in Cavendish, Vermont. Related Links: Hurricane Irene Provides a Laboratory For Testing Bridge Innovations

Before winter arrives, crews are working hard in the Northeast to assess and repair infrastructure damaged from tropical storms Irene and Lee in August and September, respectively.

Vermont was hit hard by Irene. The storm killed five, closed roads, bridges and rail lines, shut down the state office complex in Waterbury and left more than 50,000 people without power.

Dept. of Transportation officials in New York say Irene closed about 200 state-owned roads and bridges, and then Lee closed another 181 road segments and 37 bridges. As of Oct. 1, crews still were working to re-open seven bridges and 14 highway segments in the state system.

NYDOT officials also have conducted 1,680 assessments of non-state facilities. It is placing 11 temporary bridges to support local road systems.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire sustained less damage, although estimates are running into the tens of millions of dollars. Damage in Rhode Island and Connecticut was limited largely to downed branches and power lines.

Sue Allen, communications director for Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), says damage to state roads and bridges is expected to exceed $700 million. Two hundred communities were impacted, 40 seriously, she says. "Initially, 500 miles of state roads were closed," says Allen. All but 20 miles are now re-opened, "but some open roads are dirt with only one lane."

Irene closed 2,135 segments of Vermont local roads and 146 state highways. It damaged or closed 283 bridges and hundreds of culverts, mostly in the southern part of the state.

Richard Tetreault, the Vermont Agency of Transportation's chief engineer, says the state does not expect the Federal Highway Emergency Relief Fund or the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fully cover the cost of repairs. "That leaves the state or municipalities to pick up 20% to 25% of the cost, unless some act of Congress changes that," he says.

Before considering a gas-tax increase, Gov. Shumlin says the state should wait to see how much the federal government will provide.

Tetreault says, for some projects, road and bridge reconstruction is being handled through emergency contracting mechanisms and maintenance rental agreements. "Some quick procurement may involve a site visit with three contractors for temporary bridges or small repairs," he says. Bridge replacement will be managed through normal procurement processes.

The state of Vermont has retained consultants—including geotechnical, structural and highway engineers—from throughout New England and beyond. The state also has support from transportation agencies in Maine and New Hampshire; each sent state transportation agency workers to pitch in.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

CARB Studies Hybrid Equipment Emissions

Photo by Greg Aragon for ENR Komatsu's 22-ton PC200LC-8 Hybrid Excavator, which went on sale earlier this year, is the first hybrid of its kind in the U.S. Related Links: How John Deere's New Hybrid Wheel Loaders Get Their Juice CARB, AGC Agree to Delay Emission Rules Until 2014

The California Air Resources Board is studying the effects of two pieces of hybrid construction machinery, the Caterpillar D7E bulldozer and Komatsu PC200LC-8 excavator, under a $2-million grant at the University of California, Riverside.

The two-year project aims to analyze the emissions profiles of the hybrid machinery and develop incentive programs for contractors to use them, researchers say.

"Hybrid construction vehicles are just now becoming available," says Kent Johnson, as assistant research engineer at the school's Center for Environmental Research and Technology. "We have been asked to use our emissions testing experience to quantify what their benefit is."

Half the grant will fund vouchers to push 20 to 30 hybrid machines into the field. The other half will fund testing of six vehicles scattered throughout the state.

Manufacturers say hybrid machines cut fuel consumption by 20% to 30% compared to their non-hybrid equipment. However, they come with a higher price tag, costing 20% or more.

Last year, CARB decided to delay rules to curb emissions of existing off-road equipment until 2014. Previous to that action, industry groups complained that construction firms had parked equipment during the economic downturn and, as a result, were emitting less than previously believed.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Structural Engineers Need Separate Licensing

Photo by Skip Pennington/Brasfield & Gorrie Protection of public safety, health and welfare is the chief imperative of licensed practice. Related Links: The Case For Practice Restrictions in Licensure How To Close A License Loophole Dont Blame Engineering for the Gulf Spill

A physician's first priority is to do no harm, and an engineer's primary obligation is to hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public. This notion is precisely what motivates the advocates of separate licensure for structural engineers—the sincere belief that such a step is necessary to ensure that structures will remain standing.

Several states have had structural engineering (SE) licensure for decades, requiring passage of a 16-hour structural examination rather than the typical eight-hour test. Instead of having only multiple-choice questions, these exams have consistently included essay problems to evaluate a candidate's methodology, assumptions and judgment.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) has now adopted this higher standard nationwide. Its Model Rules include education, experience and examination requirements for a Model Law Structural Engineer.

The new 16-hour structural exam is evenly split between multiple-choice questions and essay problems and covers the full range of knowledge and skills required for competent practice.

While a few other NCEES exams include some structural content, passing one of these only shows ability in the specific aspects of the discipline that are included in the corresponding test specification. For example, the eight-hour civil/structural exam is intended for licensing civil engineers with a structural background, not SEs as such. Of course, passing any of the 16 NCEES exams with no structural content demonstrates no ability in the discipline at all.

Opponents of SE licensure do not claim that it would endanger the public. Instead, they usually cite the need for personal discretion and the importance of professional unity as reasons to maintain the status quo.

But neither of these considerations is integral to the most fundamental duty of all engineers. Modest constraints on those who are genuinely competent and ethical are a reasonable trade-off in order to protect the unwary from those who are incompetent or unethical.

Inadequate Alternatives

This conviction explains why proponents of SE licensure often come across as uncompromising. The National Society of Professional Engineers has proposed roster designation as a potential middle ground. Several states now publish lists of licensed engineers that indicate the particular discipline(s) in which they are qualified. However, as there are no associated practice or title restrictions, such a measure does not meaningfully raise the bar.

Medical licensure is sometimes suggested as a model that engineers should emulate. Physicians are licensed generically in every state, with specialties recognized by private certification boards rather than government agencies. Despite the lack of legal constraints, no one would intentionally go to a family practitioner rather than a neurosurgeon for a brain operation.

The analogy breaks down because doctors take a uniform test to become licensed, while every engineering licensure exam is discipline-specific. In addition, perhaps without realizing it, clients do sometimes retain licensed professional engineers to provide specific services for which the engineers are not adequately qualified.

Unlike generic medical licensure, generic engineering licensure apparently creates the false impression that anyone legally authorized to practice is inherently competent in any and every specialty.

Physicians and structural engineers both save lives, but doctors generally deal with pre-existing problems, while SEs are expected to prevent the problems from happening in the first place.

Furthermore, physicians can inform their patients about the risks associated with the treatments they prescribe, but everyone takes it for granted that structures will not fail under most circumstances. Finally, one mistake by a doctor can cause injury or death, while a single error by a structural engineer can lead to an even greater tragedy.

This tremendous responsibility that SEs have to protect the public—over and above that borne by all the engineering disciplines—is the single most significant component in the case for separate SE licensure.



Jon A. Schmidt, PE, SECB, is an associate structural engineer at Burns & McDonnell in Kansas City, Mo. He can be reached at 816-822-3373 or at

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Collapsed Wall at Tenn. Treatment Plant Was Defective, OSHA Says

Photo Courtesy of AP Wideworld A fatal flaw in a cold joint, with splicing couplers instead of dowels, weakened the concrete wall.

The April wall collapse at a Gatlinburg, Tenn., wastewater treatment plant that killed two workers was caused by deficient construction that allowed gradual corrosion of the rebar inside it, a state safety report said.

The report, written by Mahammad Ayub, director of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration office of engineering, and Mary Misciagna, Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health safety supervisor, did not find workplace safety violations, so the state is not issuing citations against the city of Gatlinburg, the plant owner or its operator, Veolia Water North America.

John D. Eslinger, 53, a lead operator, and Donald A. Storey, 44, an operator, were killed on April 5 (ENR 4/13 p. 25) when a 115-ft-long wall section of the equalization basin separated and collapsed onto the flow control building where they were working.

"The cause of the failure was a deficiency in the concrete wall construction," Ayub wrote in a summary report released on Oct. 27. "Walls were cast in a manner that produced a cold joint between the east wall, which fell, and the three orthogonal interior intersecting walls. The intersecting walls were critical to the structural integrity of the east wall."

Over the years, that cold joint made possible acidic wastewater leakage that corroded the rebar splice couplers, according to Ayub.

Neither the contractor, Crowder Construction Co., Bristol, Tenn., nor the engineer, Flynt Engineering Co., Knoxville, is in business now, he said.

The equalization basin was built in 1994-96, and the blueprints for the design are dated 1992.

"The contractor used splicing couplers instead of dowels, as required by the original drawings," but that did not cause the collapse, Ayub said.

Also, "The rebars were not threaded to the required length inside the coupler at all locations," Ayub said.

The rebar and couplers were not galvanized nor did they have epoxy coating, "which could have prolonged the life of the basin," Ayub said.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Products Snapshot: Seal-Coater, Equipment Management System, Slipform Paver, Telescoping Boom

Slide Show The Polypro Optimax seal-coating machine is available in both 550- and 825-gallon capacities. The tank's polyethylene composition prevents the sealant from adhering to the inside of the tank. The tank's helix-blade agitation prevents stalling under heavy sand loads. The machine is powered by a Honda engine and compressor and features a large hose reel on a swivel mount. The seal-coating machine is available with skid, trailer or truck mounting. Equipt Direct Inc.; 888-337-8748;

The Polypro Optimax seal-coating machine is available in both 550- and 825-gallon capacities. The tank's polyethylene composition prevents the sealant from adhering to the inside of the tank. The tank's helix-blade agitation prevents stalling under heavy sand loads. The machine is powered by a Honda engine and compressor and features a large hose reel on a swivel mount. The seal-coating machine is available with skid, trailer or truck mounting. Equipt Direct Inc.; 888-337-8748;

The Mini-Pod is an equipment management system that allows owners and foremen to remotely monitor the use of heavy equipment. The Mini-Pod can log locations, machine hours, idling, mileage and PTO time; furthermore, it is capable of tracking the use of fuel and engine oil as well as transmission and hydraulic fluid. The system is scalable and can be configured to accept additional modules over time, up to a total of 50. The Mini-Pod can be programmed to generate service alerts for heavy equipment. OEM Data Delivery; 203-929-8431;

The Power Paver SF-1700 can pave up to 21-ft-wide passes, allowing for two-pass paving. It is powered by a 160-hp, Tier 3 Cummins engine and has a two-track design that allows for one or both tracks, depending on paving conditions. Further, the 46-in. profile pan automatically adjusts for grade variations up to 24 inches. The frame of the SF-1700 is based on the SF-2700's. The paver is intended as an economic alternative for smaller contractors. Power Pavers Inc.; 319-987-3070;

The Genie S45 Trax telescopic boom is now available with a four-point-track driving system. The track-style wheels allow the machine to work in rough terrain and reduces damage to sensitive ground surfaces. Oscillating axles allow the rubber tracks to maintain contact on uneven surfaces for easier off-road travel. The S45 Trax has a lift height of 46 ft, a vertical reach of 36 ft and a gross weight of 17,440 lb. The boom's narrow chassis allows it to fit into tight spaces and be placed on a trailer easily. Genie Industries; 800-536-1810;

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sensing, Data Analysis Research Aims To Focus on Goals That Matter

Global changes, such as population growth, rising sea level and energy demand, create challenges for civil engineers. And advances in data sensing, and analysis can help address them—but researchers must concentrate on significant needs to make useful contributions.

"We see so many people doing research that doesn't help anyone," laments Ioannis Brilakis, an assistant professor in civil engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. His research focuses on use of computers and information technology in construction.

Inspired by a 2008 survey about engineering challenges for the 21st Century, Brilakis decided to use a scientific approach to identify challenges facing civil engineering that could be aided by improved data sensing and analysis.

The project was supported by a grant from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Brilakis chairs an ASCE subcommittee on data sensing and analysis, and the research his group did led to a report released Oct. 26 that identifies effective areas for inquiry. He hopes the report will get broad exposure and comments. "Any feedback we get back from practitioners will guide researchers and help make research more relevant," he says.

"Civil Engineering Grand Challenges: Opportunities for Data Sensing, Information Analysis, and Knowledge Discovery," is a 50- page paper that identifies areas for DSA research and gives examples of needs. The challenges include estimating sea levels, enhancing disaster management through infrastructure resilience, reducing soil erosion, improving building energy efficiency, managing groundwater, monitoring the health of infrastructure, reducing traffic congestion, improving construction productivity and enhancing site safety.

"We wanted to help researchers understand where they should focus their efforts, instead of doing things with very little impact," Brilakis says. Brian Sien, the ASCE liaison to the committee, is collecting comments at

Thursday, November 3, 2011

COST REPORT: Slim Margins and Uncertainty Making Inflation Dangerous

Related Links: Full 3Q Cost Report (Subscription required)

Construction economists continue to dial back their forecasts for 2011. Single-family housing, public works and the institutional-building markets have all stumbled badly in 2011, says Robert Murray, McGraw-Hill Construction's chief economist. The few bright spots, such as multifamily housing, manufacturing and powerplants, "won't be able to outweigh the minuses," he says.

Murray estimates that total construction starts in 2011 will come in at $408 billion, a 4% decline from 2010. Since ENR's second quarterly cost report, the forecast for total residential work has been pulled back from a 5% increase to a 2% decline. Likewise, the non-residential market went from a 1% gain to a 3% drop, while the initial 6% drop predicted for non-building work further dimmed to a 7% decline.

"Lack of confidence [see p. 31] and concerns over how Congress is working with the administration are putting people off on making investment decisions," says Julian Anderson, Phoenix-based president of the cost management firm Rider Levett Bucknall Ltd. "What that is doing to construction costs is scary." He notes that RLB's selling price index is starting to trend below ENR's Building Cost Index, "and that is something to worry about because it means all the fat has been squeezed out of [bid] pricing," Anderson adds.

"While there is still a fair amount of work out there, it is less than it was a few years ago, and the competition for it is pretty intense," says Karl Almstead, Turner vice president responsible for the company's building cost index. Costs will inch up very slowly, but with margins so thin it doesn't take much of an increase to put a project in jeopardy. As a result, Almstead says, there has been growing pressure on subcontractors to pass along some of the higher commodity prices they have been absorbing.

The unsteady overall economy is having an unexpected impact on some construction commodity prices, says Anirban Basu, chief economist for the Associated Builders and Contractors, Arlington, Va. "Some speculative investors are shifting to construction commodities as a hedge against the decline in stock and bonds," says Basu. "This is causing some prices, such as copper, to increase despite weak construction demand—and that is not good for contractors with slim margins."

Budget Battles

The winding down of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has caused a contraction in federally funded infrastructure work, but there still are billions of federal dollars in the offing. But the inability of Congress to pass multi-year transportation authorizations and even one-year appropriations for all federal agencies has meant uncertainty over how much construction money will be provided and when it will be available.

Transportation construction companies got a measure of good news when further extensions for surface transportation and aviation programs were signed into law on Sept. 16. The final vote in Congress came on Sept. 15, when the Senate passed the highway-transit and aviation extensions by a 92-6 vote.

Highway and transit programs as well as the motor-fuel tax collections that finance them were extended for six months, through March 31. Aviation programs, including federal airport construction grants, were extended for about four and a half months, through Jan. 31.

Stopgap funding bills have become all too familiar to construction, state transportation and airport authority officials. The new highway-transit extension is the eighth such short-term measure since September 2009; the aviation extension is the 22nd since September 2007. The last multiyear authorizations for those programs expired on those dates.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Michigan Construction Leader Ben C. Maibach Jr. Is Dead at 91

Ben C. Maibach Jr., who joined Michigan contractor Barton Malow Co. as a laborer in 1938 and rose to become chairman of what, nearly 40 years later, is now a major U.S. building construction firm, died on Sept. 24 in Farmington Hills, Mich., at age 91.



He died of cancer, says a spokeswoman.

Maibach, who followed his carpenter-foreman father into the firm, was instrumental in creating its profit-sharing and pension plan in 1951 as a rising executive. It was a first for a U.S. contractor, says the firm.

Maibach became president in 1960 and retired as chairman in the early 1980s but was on the board until 2006. He also was president of the Associated General Contractors, Detroit chapter.

Barton Malow, now run by Maibach descendents, ranks at No. 38 on ENR's list of the Top 400 Contractors, with $1.1 billion in 2010 revenue.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

People on the Move for the Week of October 17, 2011



Louis D. Haussmann has been elevated to chief operating officer of Baxter & Wodman Inc., a Crystal Lake, Ill.-based municipal engineering firm. A 14-year veteran, he had been head of its transportation group and joined the board in 2009. Baxter & Woodman is ranked at No. 352 on ENR's list of the Top 500 Design Firms, with $27.5 million in 2010 revenue.

Thomas Clinard has joined Chicago transportation engineer Alfred Benesch & Co. as vice president and Tennessee division manager. The move follows the Oct. 3 acquisition of Clinard Engineering Associates, a Brentwood, Tenn., design firm, Clinard was a managing partner. Sammie McCoy, who was a Clinard partner, now is senior project manager at Benesch. About 17 employees have joined Benesch, which ranks at No. 160 on ENR's list of The Top 500 Design Firms.

Wayne Perlenfein has joined Chicago architect Perkins + Will as a principal in its Washington, D.C., office. He was a principal, responsible for federal programs, at HDR Inc. and, before that, a vice president and program director at URS Corp. Perlenfein will focus on federal projects for P+W.



CNY Builders, a New York City contractor, has hired Kenneth Saas as executive vice president in its interiors unit. Most recently, he was a principal of MDS Construction. Saas was also the former chairman of KESCO Contracting Corp.

Kent Masters has assumed the role of CEO at Foster Wheeler AG, the company said on Oct. 3. In a change announced earlier this year, Masters succeeds Umberto della Salla, who was interim CEO. Salla continues as president and chief operating officer and as CEO of the firm's global engineering and construction unit. Masters had been CEO of The Linde Group, a global engineer and gases producer. A vote to elect Masters to the Foster Wheeler board is set for Nov. 1. The firm also said that Raymond J. Milchovich will resign as non-executive chairman on Nov. 3.

Steven L. Angle has joined EYP Architecture & Engineering, Albany, N.Y., as a project director in its energy group. A specialist in the design and energy conservation of higher-education facilities, he was manager of facilities engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.



Fairfax, Va.-based professional-services firm Dewberry has named Deborah DeBernard as its senior vice president and director of acquisitions. She joins the company from a previous role at design and program management firm Leo A Daly as vice president and chief officer for strategic innovation.

Nasri Munfah and Sanja Zlatanic have joined HNTB Corp., Kansas City, as senior vice president and chairman of tunnel services and as a vice president and chief tunneling engineer, respectively. Both are based in New York City and are former managers at Parsons Brinckerhoff—Munfah as national tunnel practice leader and Zlatanic as a project manager and senior professional associate. Munfah also is an adjunct professor of civil engineering at Columbia University. Paul Yarossi, president of HNTB Holdings Ltd., was elected the 2011-12 chairman of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the firm said on Oct. 5.

Monday, October 31, 2011

California Offers Money To Buy Hybrid Machines

TOP PHOTO: Komatsu America Corp., BOTTOM PHOTO: Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. How Green? Komatsus hybrid excavator, which the firm says is 25% more fuel efficient than the standard model, is one of two machines to be tested.

If you are working out West and have been thinking about trying a hybrid construction machine, now is the time to take advantage of nearly $1 million in incentives available from the University of California, Riverside. The catch? Your new machine could take part in a statewide study designed to find out how "green" hybrids really are.

Working under a $2-million grant from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the school's researchers will watch the machines work on real-life projects, such as a rock quarry, landfill or water remediation. Then, scientists will wire them up with sensors, run them through tests and compare their emissions to their non-hybrid siblings. Two hybrids will be tested: the Caterpillar D7E dozer and the Komatsu HB215LC-1 excavator.

Hybrid vehicles—which use internal-combustion engines and electric motors to cut down fuel consumption and, in some cases, store energy in a battery or other device—are common in the automotive sector. However, they are still new to the heavy-equipment space, some consider such machines as diesel-electric locomotives and mining trucks to be "prehistoric" hybrids. Cat started selling its green bulldozer in 2009, and Komastu rolled out its fuel-sipping excavator earlier this year.

Because the tests will take place on the job, evaluating the machines won't be easy. The challenge lies in the diverse conditions under which the vehicles work.

"We all drive cars pretty much the same," explains Kent Johnson, an assistant research engineer at the university and the lead investigator. "Some construction equipment moves trash, rocks, trees, dirt. It's amazing." Johnson recently appeared on the Discovery Channel show "Mythbusters" for a similar test comparing the relative emissions of cars and motorcycles.

California has a law on the books requiring regulators to study clean-fuel vehicles and deploy them into commerce, so CARB intends to use the tests to offer future incentive programs. Hybrid technology generally saves 5% to 20% in fuel and 25% to 70% in emissions.

Anyone wanting to participate in the study can fill out a voucher available at and take it to an authorized dealer. CARB is offering incentives of $75,000 for the D7E and $28,500 for the HB215LC-1, or about half the premium cost.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

University of Oklahoma Stutdents Learn Craft in Hands-On Lab

Courtesy of University of Oklahoma Work Crew University of Oklahoma College of Architecture students learn materials and methods in building mock-ups in industry-funded work lab. Apprentice instructors are on the teaching staff. Related Links: Education Special Report Main Story: Engineers and Universities Advance Career-Long Learning

When contractors and labor heard that educators at the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture, Norman, Okla., wanted construction science students to have hands-on craft experience, the local construction community joined to make the school's new Construction Fundamentals Lab a reality. "This will greatly enhance students' awareness of what specialty trade contractors, in particular, have to offer in terms of career oppotunities," says W.J. Wolfe, president of Oklahoma City-based mechanical contractor Wattie Wolfe, who spearheaded the collaboration. "Construction is something you learn with your hands."

During nine lab sessions, eight- to 10-student teams each work with an industry tradesman to build components for mock-ups that include exterior walls and an interior space. The teams start with structural concrete footings, managing slump tests and ordering concrete. Next, they build block and metal-stud walls, perform electrical, HVAC and plumbing rough-ins and install a drop ceiling as well as the backers for bathroom fixtures. Before hitting the lab, the students discuss safety issues.

"We designed the lab series so that it complements the plan-reading class, an estimating class and a scheduling class," says Richard C. Ryan, a former contractor and now college professor and associate director at the University of Oklahoma's Haskell and Irene Lemon Construction Science Division. "It gives them the opportunity to sense materials and methods in a team environment, as a work crew." Even in its controlled environment, the lab presents participants with the same challenges faced by contractors and craftspeople.

"Industry experts give hands-on experience and things to think about, and in the end, [students] have their work judged, which is a common part of our practice," says Clay Cockrill, a director of business development at The Boldt Co., an Oklahoma City contractor that provided warehouse space last semester for the lab and whose superintendents taught some sessions. "It really fit well within the strategy to have them in our office," he says. "It created a great synergy. Students also got a good feel for how the different trades and materials interface."

While the Boldt warehouse served the program well, the college sought its own lab space. The Oklahoma City plumbers and pipefitters union Local 344 donated classroom space and land for a laboratory pavilion. (The vacated elementary school and nine surrounding acres were purchased by the union for its own apprenticeship training program.) Union apprenticeship instructors also were invited to teach the students.

"We felt it would be positive for the industry and positive for our program to partner with a school like the university," says Mike Liston, the local's training director. "Working with [the students] one-on-one helps them understand the trade better."

Other local firms, including contractors Anderson & House Inc., Manhattan Construction and Osbourne Electric and Texas-based industry assocation TEXO donated labor, materials and funding. "The industry partnership has been overwhelming," Ryan says. "They were willing to set up and offer craft instructors, materials and supervision. It made for a well-rounded experience for the students and the faculty as well."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Herrenknecht TBM Gets Ready To Drill Under Lake Mead

Slide Show Photo courtesy of Southern Nevada Water Authority. The first section of the TBM was hoisted into the drop shaft on Sept. 7, 2011. Related Links: Big Drop in Lake Mead Curbs Water, Power

Southern Nevada's newest piece of mega-hardware—a custom $25-million Herrenknecht tunneling-boring machine—will make its long-awaited underground debut later this year.

The machine works like a giant mechanical earthworm, gnawing through dirt, rock and muck while forming a protective tunnel that will eventually channel raw Colorado River water onto nearby treatment plants before the water is pumped to homes and businesses throughout the Las Vegas valley.

The 1,800-ton, 600-ft-long TBM is the workhorse of a $526.6-million third raw-water intake tunnel project at Lake Mead, 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. A joint venture of S.A. Healy Co., Lombard, Ill., and Impreglio S.p.A., Sesto San Giovanni, Italy, known as Vegas Tunnel Constructors (VTC) LLC, is the design-build contractor. The additional intake is needed because the lake has dipped 100 feet since 2000 amid a decade of drought and boom growth.

The TBM will carve out a three-mile-long, 20-ft-dia reinforced tunnel under Lake Mead that draws water at 860 feet. That depth is deeper than the other two intakes, which may soon become inoperable if water levels continue to fall. The drill head, which rotates in 16 different positions, is already underground. The five-piece TBM should be fully assembled by early December, with commissioning to follow.

It has been a long, hard road to reach this point.
Herrenknecht’s Schwanau factory in southern Germany took 17 months to design and manufacture the machine, which was shipped in five large pieces to California’s Long Beach Harbor and then transported to the jobsite outside of Boulder City, Nev., in 61 truckloads. The transportation feat took months of planning and coordination, mapping out the route and securing special heavy-haul permits.
In 2010, an intake starter tunnel flooded three times in six months, prompting the construction team to abandon its original alignment and drill in a drier direction, roughly 23° northeast from the problematic tunnel along a ½° uphill slope. The move increased project costs by 15% and pushed the completion date back two years, to 2014.

As it stands, the TBM is being lowered piecemeal down a 30-ft-dia, 600-ft-deep access tunnel using a head-frame-gantry system with dual 200-ton strand jacks. It took crews 32 hours to lower the 315-ton drill head.
"There was only three to four inches clearance on either side," explains Jim Nickerson, VTC deputy project manager.

Friday, October 28, 2011

India Moves Forward on $90-Billion Industrial Development Plan

Map by ENR The 1,483-kilometer industrial corridor from Delhi to Mumbai would contain nine megazones for industry, spread out along a future high-speed freight rail. Related Links: The Ten Most Noteworthy Rail Projects: Overview and Related Stories

Project: Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor

Cost: $90 Billion

The Indian Cabinet last month approved the restructuring and financing for the future $90-billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, opening the way for forward for the ambitious megaproject planned along a future 1,483-kilometer high-speed-rail freight corridor. India’s rail ministry expects to invite bids this year for $2.2 billion worth of civil engineering contracts for the rail corridor’s first phase. The first seven cities of the 24-city industrial corridor are set for completion in 2018.

The purpose of the equity restructuring, under which 51% of the combined shares of two infrastructure and financing companies will be transferred to government-owned financial firms, is to maintain transparency and avoid conflicts of interest between project participants at a later stage, say sources. As a result of the Sept. 16 government action, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corp. (DMICDC), with a 49% share in the industrial corridor project, will become a government company open to government audits.

Plans call for a 1,483-kilometer-long industrial corridor that will run through seven states. In total, there would be nine industrial megazones, each 200-250 sq km, and 24 new cities. Each zone would be located along the future 1,500-km high-speed freight line that will connect landlocked Delhi—in the north-central section of the subcontinent—southwest to Mumbai on the Arabian Sea. The government has not released any time frame for completion of the overall development.

"The basic objective of the [industrial corridor] is to drive manufacturing. Only then can India hope to keep growing at 9% to 10%, year-on-year," says Amitabh Kant, CEO and managing director of DMICDC.

Land acquisition will be one of many challenges, say sources. Connecting highways, railways and ports to the new cities will be another, says Kant.

The Challenge of Financing

However, the main challenge will be financing. Unlike China, India will look at public-private partnerships, with part of the funding coming from the private sector. "In this, the government has a major role [because] these new cities [will] cost money," he says. "The first seven cities that we plan to develop will cost between $8 billion to $15 billion, which is what Dholera, the largest development plan, is likely to cost," says Kant.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

COST REPORT: Workers' Comp Rates Start to Climb

Workers' compensation premiums posted a 2% increase this year compared with 2010's national average. The increase will likely set the tone for rate increases to come, say construction-industry insurers tracking states' annual filings this summer.

The year's overall "modest increase in premiums [is] a sign the workers' compensation markets are hardening," says Peter Burton, senior division executive at Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Compensation Insurance.

NCCI reports that 12 states so far have filed rate changes for workers' compensation premiums this cycle, which started in July, with eight states filing increases and four states filing decreases. This reverses last year's trend, when 23 states filed decreases and only 15 states filed increases, says Burton. He expects to see more increases in 2011.

States filing the biggest increases are Virginia, New Hampshire and Florida, with increases of 10.5%, 9.8% and 8.9%, respectively, says NCCI. Florida's rates are up after eight years of decreases following reforms that by now "have been wrung out of the system," says Burton.

The biggest rate decreases were filed by Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia, where flatter claims frequency compared with other states yielded rate drops of 3%, 7.5% and 8.1%, respectively, according to NCCI.

While "each state has its own scenario affecting rates," overarching factors such as the weak economy and increasing claims frequencies are putting upward pressure on rates. "It's the first uptick in frequency in 20 years," Burton says.

The 9% increase in claims frequency this year has insurers "unclear whether this frequency increase is a new normal or a short-term phenomenon coming on the heels of the Great Recession," says Dennis Mealy, NCCI chief actuary. "The workers' compensation line continues to experience an ever-lengthening list of challenges, including poor underwriting results, health-care reform uncertainty and, now, an uptick in claim frequency."

"Certainly the prolonged recession has had an impact on rates," says Mary Ann Krautheim, client strategy officer at Chicago-based Aon Corp. She cites lower revenue from year to year, claims development that can take years and medical costs trending upward as factors for climbing premiums.

A foreboding factor for workers' compensation rates are the dwindling reserve positions of private carriers in the last two years, Krautheim says. NCCI estimates a reserve deficiency among private carriers of about $10 billion in 2010, up by $1 billion from the previous year.

The new wellness programs that many contractors are clamoring for may mitigate the trend of rising claims frequency. "With medical costs exploding, that portion of workers' comp is rising," says Sam Melamed, director of sales at Arlington, Va.-based American Building Contractors, citing anecdotal industry evidence that wellness programs reduce claims and reduce out-of-work time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Imad Naffa, Social Media Pioneer, Dies Suddenly

Photo courtesy of TEDx Engineer Imad Naffa, at industry conference in May, was a strong advocate of social networking. Related Links: TEDx Dead Sea Imad Naffa Video

Imad Naffa, a civil engineer and building code software developer who propelled his "passion for people" to become a global social media networking phenomenon, died suddenly on Sept. 6 in Fresno, Calif. He was 49 and suffered a fatal heart attack, according to a Twitter post by Loretta Naffa, his wife and office manager.

The death of Naffa, a self-proclaimed "Twitterologist," generated a buzz among his followers, who numbered more than 56,000, making him the second-most influential construction industry tweeter, according to, a website that ranks registered Twitter users based on both number of followers and "influence."

There were close to 500 responses to news of his death on Twitter as of Sept. 8. According to Matt Handal, business development manager for Trauner Consulting Services Inc., a Philadelphia-based national construction schedule and claim analysis firm, Naffa had sent more than 119,000 tweets within the last three years. "His philosophy was to post as much as possible and follow and be followed as much as possible," says Handal.

The Jordanian-born Naffa was president and senior engineer of Naffa International, a Fresno building code and plan review consulting firm he founded in 2001. According to the firm's website, it provides services to 100 cities and counties across the U.S. and develops web-based technical resources and forums used by international architects, engineers, consultants and building regulation officials.

"We have lost a great contributor to this industry and he will be missed more than words can describe," the company said in a Sept. 8 statement.

The Naffa-created Building Code Discussion Group (BCDG), a free Web-based forum, has nearly 1,000 daily users, according to the firm. The site "is an invaluable source of information and has greatly improved the understanding of building codes and laws for countless professionals," says Paul N. Miller, founding principal of The Vernal Group, a Visalia, Calif., architect. "Imad also moderated the site and provided many answers to questions posted. I can only hope [it] will continue to be an excellent source of information without his incredible guidance. The loss of the BCDG would be huge."

Miller also cites Naffa's expertise in software development, beginning in his former role as a vice president and senior engineer at CMA, a Fresno consulting firm. "He created many tools used by architectural and engineering firms around the country, and possibly around the world," says Miller. "His Code Buddy software provided code-related information in an easy-to-access manner. It was very intuitive and easy to use." Naffa also had been deputy city engineer for Sanger, Calif.

Naffa said that his social media emphasis did generate bottom-line results for his firm. In a recent discussion with Trinity Consulting's Handal on Google+, Google's social networking site, Naffa noted increases in revenue "for my online technical offerings for engineers, architects and the code enforcement industry that were due to traffic and exposure from Twitter in the last 24 months."

Naffa became a strong global advocate of the value of social media as a business tool. In a May speech in Jordan sponsored by TEDx, a non-profit group that sponsors local conferences of those it touts as "the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers," he claimed links to people "in 12 different time zones." He had previously addressed the group in China.

Touting his ability to use social media to "build bridges all over the world," Naffa said he fostered "collaboration with business you couldn't do otherwise in a lifetime. For me, the relationships, friendships and connections established with professionals globally is priceless. You cultivate that and in time opportunities come around for collaboration and joint ventures."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rail Network Construction in Libya Stalled by Rebellion

Slide Show ENR Art Dept. Civil war has interrupted work on country's rail system project. Related Links: The Ten Most Noteworthy Rail Projects: Overview and Related Stories

Comprehensive National Rail Network

Cost: $5.6 billion

Construction period: 2008-12 (original estimate)

Libya's civil war has halted an ambitious plan to build an extensive $5.6-billion rail system designed to bolster both passenger and freight service.

The major east-west route would parallel the coast, ultimately stretching 2,300 kilometers from Ras Ejder on the border of Tunisia to Umm Sa’ad on the Egyptian border.

The regime awarded separate contracts to Russian and Chinese contractors to complete certain segments. In 2008, crews from RZD, the Russian state railway, began building the 554-km Surt-to-Benghazi segment, which had been set to include four major stations and 24 minor ones. The owner expected the project to take four years at a cost of $3 billion.

As part of the project, RZD built a rail-welding plant in Ras Lanuf, with a capacity to produce 500 km of long welded rail per year for use in Libya, as well as for export to Russia.

Also in 2008, China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) began laying track westward along a 625-km segment from Surt, via Al Khums and Tripoli, to Ras Ejder. The company also has been awarded an 800-km north-south segment, which will be used to transport iron ore from the southern city of Sebha to a steel mill and port at Misratah, when completed, likely this year. CRCC’s contracts are reported to total $2.6 billion.

Work on the system halted in February 2011, when the Libyan rebellion began. According to a Russian news report, RZD evacuated all of its 123 staff employees as well as 700 non-Russian workers. An RZD spokesman confirms that the company is awaiting approval from the new Libyan government to return to the project.

Monday, October 24, 2011

VHB/Eng-Wong, Taub and PB: Building Client Relationships with Social Media

Photo courtesy of VHB/Eng-Wong, Taub Twitter posts helped the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and its consultant drive participation in a customer survey.

Photo Credit: Owen Murphy/Louisiana DOTD Interstate widening project in Baton Rouge, La., called Geaux Wider, drew 70,000 page views a month to its Facebook page. Related Links: Hashtag This: Social Media Risks and Rewards in Construction Social Media Reshape Job Hunting and Recruitment at Smith Group, CH2M Hill In Social Media, Some Conversations Are Best Kept Private Water Social Networking Site Matches Water Providers With End Users Corps Finds Facebook Excels for Flood Emergency Communications Writing the Social Media Policy Handbook at Burns & McDonnell, HOK

One of the positive outcomes that firms report in using social media is building rapport with clients. Often, it evolves from teaming with them to help make information about projects available to the public.

Jeffrey M. Taub, senior marketing specialist for VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub (, says his planning and transportation consulting firm has used Twitter to help promote many of its clients’ projects, as the clients themselves realize they can use Twitter to engage their communities. "We want to help them move away from static websites to more dynamic, interactive engagement with customers," he says.

Darrel W. Cole, manager of the communications and public involvement group at Parsons Brinckerhoff (, agrees. To create a strategic benefit for a public-agency client and the firm, staffers have to put the "social" into social media, he says. That means going beyond simply pushing out information. "Are you answering questions, posing questions, sharing the day's weather, saying good morning, sharing important information that will help [the public] during a weather event or some natural disaster, or sharing community information [about, for example] events?" he asks.

If you do, that's when the public will see the project and construction team in a different light. "It's the [moment when they realize] ‘Oh, they really do care about how they are impacting me.’ Now that's powerful." The analogy Cole uses is the local coffee shop. "Would you go in every day and say nothing? No. Most people will engage at least politely back. Why wouldn't you do the same to the people who are following you on social media?"

VHB has used Twitter to help promote clients’ projects with their customers—in the case of PATH and MTA—and citizens, in the case of counties and municipalities. The New York City Dept. of Transportation, for example, promoted public hearings and workshops for the Hylan Boulevard transportation study through Twitter, and VHB re-tweeted their posts and created its own. Morris County in northern New Jersey actively tweets project news, as well, and VHB retweets. For example:

• RT @NYC_DOT: Join us for a public meeting on Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island. Thurs Sep 15 at 7PM
• Join VHB and the @AECOM team at #StatenIsland Hylan Boulevard Bus Study meeting:

Taub believes the most important aspect of this effort "is that we’re doing this on our own. The client isn’t paying us to tweet and promote their work, but we feel it’s important that the public is presented with every opportunity to learn more about local projects and neighborhood improvement plans," he says. Even for projects where work wrapped up several years ago, the firm uses Twitter to congratulate clients. For example:

• Great to see Stapleton, Hunters Point South, and many other great @NYCEDC initiatives moving forward
• Congrats to @stevengoldin and our project team! Transit Village #TOD approved at #Princeton Junction:

In 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey hired VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub to complete customer surveys of PATH riders in the New York City metro area. More than 12,000 in-station, face-to-face in­terviews were conducted. VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub also wrote a series of tweets that were distributed by PATH’s Twitter account manager and displayed throughout the program on PATHVision monitors to encourage survey partici­pation.

Getting Out Information on the Survey

Susan O’Donnell, VHB + Eng-Wong, Taub project manager, was following "PathTweet" partially because it is a client and also for transit information, and she thought it would be a good way to get information out to PATH customers regarding the survey. Both consultant and client staff collaborated on the messaging. "Several people came right up, asking to participate in the survey, and others mentioned that they heard about it from Twitter," she said. The strategy boosted the response rate and participation.

PB also is using Facebook and Flickr to communicate with the public on projects such as the interstate widening project in Baton Rouge, La., called Geaux Wider ( The project’s Facebook page has drawn 70,000 page views a month, compared to the project’s website page-view tally of 4,000 or so.

The project is also using the social-media photo site Flickr ( as "a key component" of its program, Cole adds. "The images of real people doing real work help make the public see the project from the workers' eyes and humanizes it, even though it is impacting their travel every day," he says.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Indianapolis To Pick Tunneler For Key CSO Connector Project

Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Dept. of Public Works Treatment plant is set for completion next year; deep tunnel is set for a 2017 completion.

One month after awarding a $25-million sewerage-tunnel construction inspection contract amid a packed field of proposals, Indianapolis utility Citizens Energy Group will select a firm to build the $275-million project, with the low bidder 33% below the estimate.

On Sept. 29, AECOM Technology Corp. was awarded the inspection contract for the Deep Rock sewage overflow project. The Los Angeles-based firm bested competitors that included Parsons Brinckerhoff's Water Group, locally based American Structurepoint, Burgess & Niple and a Hunt/Parsons joint venture, among others, says utility spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple. AECOM designed the 18-ft-dia., 7.8-mile-long tunnel under a separate $17-million contract.

Indianapolis is undergoing a $1.7-billion upgrade as part of a 2006 federal consent decree (ENR 2/14 p. 24). Plans call for building four other storage tunnels. The collective system is meant to address the city's 7.8-billion gallons of yearly sewage overflow. AECOM is managing phase one of the 230-ft-deep, 54-million-gallon- capacity tunnel connecting two new wastewater treatment plants. The project also includes a 120-mgd capacity dewatering pump station.

The deep-tunnel contract, which bid on Aug. 11, attracted nine bidders with only 1.6% separating the top two submissions. A Shea-Kiewit joint venture is apparent the low bidder at $185.5 million, 33% below the engineer's estimate. Runner-up Flatiron Constructors submitted a $188.5-million bid, while less than 1% separated the next two bidders, the Judlau/Michels LLC JV and the team of Obayashi/WL Hailey.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Buildings: GSA Aims To Keep Coast Guard HQ On Schedule

Despite threatened spending cuts, the General Services Administration plans to keep a Coast Guard headquarters project on track for a fiscal 2013 opening, says Public Buildings Service Commissioner Robert Peck. The $350-million, 1.2-million-sq-ft project is part of a $3.4-billion Dept. of Homeland Security complex planned for southeast Washington, D.C.

GSA sought $212 million in 2012 for the DHS plan, including $76 million for the Coast Guard HQ. But a House panel zeroed out 2012 GSA new construction; Senate appropriators approved $65 million. If GSA gets zero, Peck says, "We're still going to open that [headquarters] in 2013." If it gets $65 million, the White House would determine the Coast Guard HQ's share, he says. The fate of the other parts of the DHS plan is unclear.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Clean Air: House Bill Blocks Rule for Cement-Making Plants

The House has approved legislation that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to revisit its cement emissions regulation. The House cleared the bill on Oct. 6 by a 262-161 vote.

EPA's final rule, which would cut emissions from cement manufacturing plants by requiring use of "maximum achievable" technology, is slated to go into effect in September 2013.

But proponents of the legislation, such as the Portland Cement Association (PCA), say the rule's timetable is unrealistic and would force as much as 20% of the currently operating cement plants to shut down.

But the bill, which is opposed by environmental and public-health groups, faces an uphill battle in the Senate, PCA says.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

U.S. Charges Ex-Berger Group CEO With Overbilling Scheme

Michael Goodman for ENR Wolff directed other Berger officials to devise fraudulent billing scheme, indictment charges. Related Links: Aug. 10, 2010, ENR story: "Probe Leads to Wolff's Likely Exit From Berger" Text of the indictment (PDF)

The former CEO of Louis Berger Group, Derish Wolff, has been charged with leading a plan to intentionally inflate overhead charges on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts over a period of nearly 20 years, federal officials said.

According to an indictment returned by a grand jury in federal district court in Newark, N.J. , on Oct. 19 and unsealed on Oct. 19, Wolff intentionally conspired to bill the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) "at knowingly inflated rates" for reconstruction contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the contracts at issue are USAID "cost-plus" or cost-reimbursable contacts totaling more than $818 million awarded to Berger Group from 2002 through 2006.

Wolff was president and CEO of Louis Berger Group from 1982 until 2002 and Chairman of its parent company, Berger Group Holdings Inc., from 2002 until Aug. 13 of last year.

He was expected to appear in federal court in Newark on Oct. 19.

The indictment states that at the company's September 2001 annual meeting, Salvatore Pepe, its then-controller and later chief financial officer, presented an overhead rate that was well below the target Wolff had set. The indictment says Wolff called Pepe an "assassin" of the overhead rate, and ordered him to target a rate exceeding 140% of actual labor costs.

The government also says that in response to Wolff's directive, Pepe and Precy Pellettieri, another Berger Group official, developed a "fraudulent scheme" to reclassify some company employees’ work hours to indicate that they had worked on the federal projects when they in fact did not.

The government says this reclassifying went on from about 2003 through 2007 without the workers' knowledge and also over one employee’s objection.

The indictment also says that Wolff instructed the other company officials to charge all shared overhead expenses for the company’s Washington, D.C., office to an account for USAID-related items, although that office also worked on many non-USAID contracts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Master-Planned N.M. Development Tests Cutting Edge Smart Grid Tech

With plans for 18 million sq ft of commercial space and 37,000 homes, Albuquerque's master-planned sustainable community, Mesa del Sol, was selected as an ideal test site for a collaborative U.S.-Japanese demonstration project to examine emerging technologies that digitally control and balance power generated by various energy sources, including renewables.

Upon completion of Mesa del Sol's $6-million retrofit in spring 2012, the community's centerpiece, the Antoine Predock-designed Aperture Center, will be home to the three-year commercial smart-grid technology test.

"The smart-grid project has created a unique research opportunity to develop a building energy management system that will use real-time data on available power generation, available storage and active building load," says Manny Barrera, director of engineering for Mesa del Sol. The system will optimize resources to achieve solar smoothing, peak shaving, peak shifting and islanding, he adds.

The project includes a 50-KW photovoltaic system with solar panels mounted on a shade structure above a parking lot, an 80-KW fuel cell, a 240-KW natural-gas-powered generator, a lead-acid storage battery power system and hot and cold thermal storage. All these components will interconnect with the Aperture Center through a control room and building management system, Barrera says.

"The challenge will be integrating the system into the building without interrupting ongoing operations," says Andrew Potts, project manager for Atlanta-based general contractor Shimizu North America. Most grid components will be surrounded by a block wall in a yard behind the building. The battery components are to be housed in an electrical room.

Spearheaded by Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, the project stems from a 2009 Japan-U.S. summit to collaborate on developing smart-grid technology in the U.S. A number of Japanese firms and local public and private agencies also are participating to look for practical applications of the smart-grid technology.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Green Model Contract Forms Coming Out Early Next Year

Next year, the American Institute of Architects plans to release "green" model contract forms designed to help limit legal exposure on sustainable projects. The forms are based on the institute's model agreements between owner and architect and between owner and contractor. They will incorporate concepts from AIA's free Guide for Sustainable Projects, published in the spring.

AIA previewed the forms at the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, which drew 23,000 registrants to Toronto on Oct. 4-7. The objective of the agreements is to "make sure that roles and responsibilities are correctly defined" and to "allocate risk to the best person to handle it," says Joshua Balance, AIA's associate counsel. However, if a project does not achieve sustainable expectations due to negligence, the contracts "won't absolve parties of liability," he cautions.

The forms will be available for purchase in the first quarter of 2012 at, says the Washington, D.C.-based AIA.

Also in Toronto, the International Living Future Institute, Portland, Ore., unveiled its Net-Zero-Energy Building Certification program. The program, which ILFI says is the first of its kind, is based on building performance, not modeling. Buildings must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation, says ILFI. Information is available at

LEED 2012—the next version of the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building rating system—will have two new credit categories: integrated process and performance. LEED 2012 also will include updates to its materials-and-resources category, which addresses waste reduction. The revision puts a stronger emphasis on life-cycle assessment, says USGBC. Information about LEED 2012 is available at

In other news, the World Green Building Council announced its new chairman: Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Q & A With Federal Railroad Administration Deputy Administrator Karen Rae

Courtesy FRA Rae says that 72 of 77 rail projects under ARRA are now in some phase of development. Related Links: DOT Drives To Commit Rail Aid

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $8 billion for high-speed passenger rail and regular appropriations provided about $2 billion more. It’s been up to the Federal Railroad Administration to set up the program, evaluate a flood of applications for the money and award grants. But before design and construction work can get going, FRA must negotiate and sign agreements with states and freight railroads, on whose lines many of the proposed projects are located. Only then can the money be formally obligated.

Since July, there has been a burst of FRA high-speed rail obligations, totaling more than $2 billion. That clears the way for design and construction contracts to proceed.

To get FRA’s views on these developments, ENR spoke with Deputy Administrator Karen Rae, who has been deeply involved in the high-speed rail program nearly from its beginning and has been a key player in moving the process forward.

For about 30 years, Rae has held senior public-sector transportation posts. She joined FRA in 2009 from the New York State Dept. of Transportation, where she was deputy commissioner of policy and planning. Before that, she was Pennsylvania DOT’s deputy secretary for local and area transportation and earlier was director or general manager of public-transit systems in Austin, Texas; and Glens Falls and Buffalo, N.Y.

Edited excerpts of the Oct. 4 telephone interview follow:

ENR: Why this burst of obligation activity over the past couple of months?

Rae: You’re right to notice that we’re continuing to move funds out…. The number that’s in my head is $2.1 billion since early July….

Three years ago, this program didn’t even exist. So we spent the first year of our being, kind of creating the base on the program and getting the first awards out. Then we had a second round of awards and then we had a third round of awards…. We’ve always been focused on trying to get as many projects into good agreements that can get us into the next construction cycle.

In this case in particular we had a couple of very big [projects] that went through over the summer as well as a large number of smaller and medium-sized ones, because we finally began to create some templates for the PE, NEPA and the state rail plans so that we would not have to do each one individually, we kind of found a way of systematically advancing those.

[Major projects whose funds were obligated this summer include $449 million to Amtrak for Northeast Corridor improvements, $295 million to New York to ease the bottleneck at the Harold Interlocking in Queens, and $158 million for improvements in upstate New York, between Poughkeepsie and Schenectady.]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Energy Conference Attendees Buzzed About Gigaprojects Despite Volatility

Photo courtesy chevron PRISTINE? Builders of the $45-billion Gorgon LNG plant in Australia face strict bio-security rules.

Uncertainty and volatility will dominate development of large-scale projects in new markets and untapped locales, say attendees of the Engineering and Construction Contracting in Phoenix on Sept. 7-10.

With uncertainty and volatility stifling large-scale capital investment in new global markets and pristine locales, project challenges attracted a record number of attendees to a key energy-industrial megaprojects conference in Phoenix on Sept. 7-10.

As development encroaches on increasingly remote areas, jurisdictions are becoming more protective of threatened species and environmental risks, Chevron Corp. executive Johann Van Der Merwe told more than 600 attendees at the Engineering & Construction Contracting Association (ECC) conference. ECC—a group of owners, contractors and suppliers in the process, refining, pharmaceutical and power sectors—is an affiliate of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, which is committed to improving the outcome of capital projects.

Van Der Merwe is quarantine manager on the oil firm's Gorgon liquefied natural- gas development project, now being built on Barrow Island off Australia's northwest coast. The estimated $45-billion project is located on one of Australia's oldest natural preserves and has strict bio-security rules for construction equipment, materials and personnel, he said. Quarantine officials have treated more than 500,000 tons of material shipped to the island, including the disassembly and examination of equipment to catch stowaway seeds and insects.

Shale-gas development could be a global "game changer" in energy production, said Laura Knight Atkins, director of petroleum research at Hart Energy, Houston. She detailed how the industry must overcome hydraulic fracturing's significant environmental image problems by undertaking basic research into risks and treating or re-using the massive amounts of water required.

David Steele, group managing director of delivery at Australian engineer WorleyParsons, examined a key industry shift to execution logistics from technology in a session on project delivery. For many owners, global relationships will become more important, and contractors can better compete by demonstrating location-specific knowledge, he said.

project delivery

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Strategic Executive Changes for Week of Oct. 3



U.S. Army Col. Margaret W. Burcham was selected on Sept. 18 to command the Corps of Engineers' Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, based in Cincinnati. She is the first woman to serve as a division commander and engineer on a full-term basis, says the Corps. Burcham will lead seven Corps districts in a 17-state region that includes 4,800 staffers and an annual operations and construction budget exceeding $2 billion. She formerly served as an Army division chief at the Pentagon and as a Corps district commander in Iraq, among other posts. Col. Janice Dombi was named temporary commander of the San Francisco-based South Pacific Division in 2009, replacing Gen. John McMahon, who was deployed to Afghanistan. She has since retired.

Shaw Group Inc., Baton Rouge, has elevated James Glass to president of its energy and chemicals group. He replaces Lou Pucher, who is retiring in December. Glass, formerly group executive vice president and president of its process business, has been with Shaw or its acquired unit, Stone & Webster, since 1970. Pucher joined Shaw in 2007 from a previous executive role with KBR Inc.

Jamey A. Barbas has joined Hardesty & Hanover, the New York City engineer, as global director of strategic projects. Formerly associate principal in New York for London-based design firm Arup, she was cited in 2004 as an ENR Newsmaker for managing design and construction of an emergency cable-strengthening project on the 72-year-old Waldo-Hancock Bridge in Maine.

Ames & Gough, the McLean, Va.-based insurance broker and risk management consultant for professional-services firms, has promoted partners Joan DeLorey, Matthew Gough and Frances Railey to senior vice president. It also named Tom Marchetti, a client executive, as assistant vice president. Gough, Railey and Marchetti are based in McLean; DeLorey is based in Boston. Railey also was named corporate secretary.

J. Scott Kilbourn has joined design firm Perkins Eastman, New York City, as a principal and as chief operating officer of its international practice. Based in Washington, D.C., he was a vice president at RTKL, where he worked in its Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Washington offices.



Los Angeles-based AECOM has named Luigi "Lou" Bruno as vice president of the minerals and metals practice in the engineering firm's North America mining business. He is based in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Bruno is the former North American VP of minerals and metals project development for WorleyParsons and also had been senior vice president of minerals and mining in its Canada division.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hot-Rod Trencher Still Draws the Crowds

Slide Show Photo courtesy of Ditch Witch The Super Witch is a hot-rod trencher that started out as a rogue marketing project. Related Links: Watch the Super Witch in Action (YouTube)

Every time Don Pemberton fires up the Super Witch, people stop what they are doing and pay attention.

"I'm the operator, the only operator," says Pemberton, 55, who for years has sat behind the wheel of the super-powered trenching machine, which regularly makes the rounds at construction trade shows. "You have to have ear protection—this thing is pretty loud."

Often dubbed a "showstopper" or "male magnet," the chromed-up Super Witch has survived five generations and countless rebuilds, making it one of the longest-running attractions at ICUEE, a biennial utility-equipment show. The next ICUEE show is on Oct. 4-6 in Louisville, Ky.

The Super Witch was created more than 30 years ago as a rogue marketing project. It first blew into ICUEE in 1979, after a small group of employees at The Charles Machine Works Inc., Perry, Okla., secretly decided to soup up one of the company's Ditch Witch-brand tractors.

In late 1978, in preparation for the show, the group got to work on the garage project. A prototype Model 6510 frame served as the chassis, while a 1969 Chevelle Super Sport donated the engine, a 396-cu-in. "big block" Chevy V-8.

Factory legend has it that the donor car, wearing Texas plates and reading 110,000 on the odometer, was a stolen vehicle. The company bought it "as is," with no title, from a local farmer for $100, employees say. According to Pemberton, the car actually was purchased from a local salvage yard.

Management eventually blessed the project, and suppliers pitched in to help overhaul the Witch. A local shop fabricated the chrome exhaust headers, while a hydraulics company made pumps to run the hydrostatic drive. The pumps powered the rear wheels, while a Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 automatic transmission—the same equipment in the Chevelle—drove the rear trenching tool.

"We didn't put a lot of money or time into it," says Pemberton, who is the factory's fleet manager, among other duties. "We just dolled it up a little bit and took off."

The Super Witch has been through several updates since then, but the basic setup has stayed the same. However, it has gained power over the years.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Burton S. Sperber, Landscape Architecture 'Magician,' Dies at 82

Burton S. Sperber was a "passionate and accomplished" magician, says the California landscape architecture firm he founded and ran for decades. But it was Sperber's vision and tough business skills, not magic, that built Valley Crest Landscape Cos., Calabasas, into the billion-dollar business it became before recession nipped its bottom line. Sperber, 82, died on Sept. 30 in Santa Monica, Calif., of complications from surgery, says the firm.

With only a high school education and experience in his father's nursery, Sperber acquired a small landscape business in 1949 for $700 and was busy as post-WWII California boomed. Valley Crest helped its clients—ranging from commercial real estate developers and public agencies to Las Vegas casino owners and the Disney Co.—"create, build or maintain some of the world's extraordinary natural environments," says the firm. Valley Crest landscaping projects have included interstates, college campuses, Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel, the Getty Center in Los Angeles and a fast-tracked overhaul of Atlanta's Olympic stadium in 1996. The firm launched a design-build unit in 2006.

Sperber's son, Richard A. Sperber, was named co-CEO in 2008, when the founder became chairman. Valley Crest has about 9,000 employees in 150 U.S. locations and ranks at No. 54 on ENR's list of the Top 400 Contractors, with $835 million in 2010 revenue.



While Burt Sperber was known as just "the head gardener," company executives note his deeper involvement in the business. Says a spokesman, "When he'd walk the branch offices, shops and yards, the managers [were] trailing behind all the time, soaking up Burt's advice and constructive criticism. On jobsites, he loved to challenge foremen and superintendents in correctly identifying trees and shrubs being installed. He always believed that getting into the field to see and be seen by laborers, foremen, crew leaders and superintendents is a primary responsibility of management."

Sperber was a Fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects and former director of its foundation. Steve Wynn, chairman of Las Vegas-based Wynn Reports, says Sperber "was a wonderful businessman and built a great organization, which I am confident will continue just as he had intended."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

9/11 Search Turns into a 10-Year Rebuilding Crusade

Bottom Photo by Nadine M. Post for ENR DETERMINED On 9/11, Lyons, wearing his firefighter-brothers spare gear, went looking for him at Ground Zero. Lyons has worked there since. Related Links: Witnesses to 9/11, Devoted to Rebuilding World Trade Center At New York's New World Trade Center, Uncommon Cooperation

Brian Lyons, 51, has worked on 10 projects at Ground Zero. The man is on a personal crusade to rebuild the World Trade Center "bigger and better than before." His mission was born on 9/11, when he made his way to Ground Zero to look for his 32-year-old brother—a firefighter with Squad 41 in the South Bronx. Lyons had last talked to Michael, an eight-year veteran with the New York City Fire Dept., at about 7 a.m. on 9/11.

"I knew my brother was down here—Squad 41 was a rescue unit," said Lyons, during a break from his job with Tishman Construction Corp., a unit of AECOM Technology, as project manager for the WTC Transportation Hub.

To double-check, as the phones and transit were not working, Lyons walked from Manhattan to the firehouse. It was empty. So he donned Michael's spare gear and borrowed his car to drive to Ground Zero. He got through security checks by saying he was joining "his" unit.



Lyons never found Michael. But he ended up helping the assessment teams check the stability of surrounding buildings, including the Deutsche Bank building, which had a gaping hole in its front face. While up in the building, everyone heard a noise and started running, thinking collapse was imminent, Lyons recalls. Suddenly, the group's flashlights all died. In the dark, Lyons opened a door and came upon a room full of batteries.

Lyons stayed at Ground Zero for three weeks straight during the rescue and recovery. He then spent nine months on the cleanup. Next came the restorations of the nearby subway line and the PATH train. The Freedom Tower, 7 WTC, the Freedom Tower again, and 3 and 4 WTC followed before the hub.

Lyons says Michael's widow, who was seven months' pregnant on 9/11, and their two daughters, currently 11 and nine years old, are OK, thanks in part to strong family support. As for Lyons, he finds his work satisfying. "Ten years later, we are in a very good place," he says.