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.