CT Construction Digest Thursday January 12, 2023
Fairfield illegal dumping defendants may stand trial together
BRIDGEPORT — Depending on her ruling it could be one of the longest and most complex criminal trials in the state’s history, but a Superior Court judge is deciding whether to hold one trial or three for the six defendants in the Fairfield illegal dumping case.
During a hearing Wednesday afternoon, as the lawyers for the six defendants sat along a bench in the front of the courtroom, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Tamberlyn Chapman told Judge Tracy Lee Dayton that a single trial could take about two months and include testimony from 70 to 80 witnesses.
And Dayton replied she has already gotten numerous letters that thousands of people want to attend the trial.
Over the objection of most of the defense lawyers, Chapman, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Melissa Streeto and special state prosecutor C. Robert Satti Jr. urged the judge to hold one trial for a majority of the defendants and possibly a second smaller trial for two other defendants.
“We have multiple defendants that arise from the same act,” Streeto said arguing for one major trial. She said it would not make sense to bring in the same witnesses to testify in six separate trials.
The judge reserved her decision and continued arguments in the case to Feb. 16.
“I need to think about it,” she said. “Part of my concern is the unwieldy nature of this case.”
Five former senior Fairfield town officials, a prominent developer and the head of an environmental waste disposal company are accused of one of the largest environmental crimes in state history — dumping truckloads of contaminated fill on town property and then constructing a scheme to cover it up. The cleanup of the contaminated soil, discovered in town parks and under the Penfield Pavilion, has already cost town residents millions of dollars.
Scott Bartlett, former Fairfield Public Works superintendent, is accused of knowingly accepting the contaminated soil from developer Jason Julian in exchange for bribes and then helping to illegally dispose of it. Julian is accused of paying Bartlett bribes and illegally disposing of contaminated soil.
Joseph Michelangelo, former director of public works, recently pleaded guilty to helping in both the disposal of the soil and the coverup and is awaiting sentencing.
Brian Carey, the interim public works director and town conservation director, Emmet Hibson, the town’s former human resources director and Robert Mayer, the town’s former chief financial officer, are accused in the conspiracy of covering up the disposal of the soil.
Robert Grabarek, president of Osprey Environmental Engineering of Clinton, is accused of knowingly building a berm of the contaminated soil after he was hired by the town to clean up the main site.
There are also charges against some of the defendants regarding the related case of contaminated soil being dredged from a popular fishing hole in Fairfield that was allegedly used as fill at locations in Fairfield and Bridgeport. That is expected to be a second trial.
In 2013, Julian Development was hired by the town to manage a pile of debris next to the public works garage with the prohibition that it was to accept no contaminated material there and was to eventually clean out the site.
But over the next three years, the site went from 40,000 cubic yards of material to approximately 120,000 cubic yards, covering nearly three acres. Subsequent tests found the pile contained high levels of PCBs, lead, and other hazardous materials, according to court documents.
During a previous court hearing in the case, Chapman told a judge that the cleanup of the contaminated material on the town’s dump site has already cost town residents in excess of $20 million. But she said that could get much higher as the town works to remove contaminated soil from town beaches and playgrounds where it was transferred. She said 5,000 cubic yards of the soil was used under the Penfield Pavilion and must be removed at a cost of $5 million.
A warrant affidavit in the case states that it has been discovered that the contaminated soil was used at over 40 locations in Fairfield.
“Mayer, (former first selectman Michael) Tetreau and other town administration officials were aware of this, as they had received unsigned, draft copies of certain internal law enforcement records and/or draft warrant affidavits from Christopher Lyddy, former chief of police for the town of Fairfield,” the affidavit states.
During Wednesday’s hearing Judge Dayton asked prosecutors whether charges will be forthcoming in the case against Tetreau and Lyddy.
“I keep seeing their names all over documents in the case,” the judge said.
“It’s an ongoing investigation, that’s the nature of the beast,” Chapman replied.
Building Committee takes first look at school locations in Cheshire
CHESHIRE — The School Building Committee met three times in December 2022, foreshadowing a busy 2023 for the group responsible for overseeing the building of two new elementary schools in town.
The group’s initial meeting of Dec. 5 saw new members sworn in and briefed by Town Attorney Jeffrey Donofrio about some of the legal aspects of their duties. On Dec. 14, the group made a visit to the two properties where the new buildings are slated for construction.
The first stop was the undeveloped parcel of land once owned by the Casertano family, located at Marion Road and Jarvis Street.
Members of the committee were joined by ex-officio members School Superintendent Jeff Solan and Town Manager Sean Kimball, along with Town Planner Michael Glidden.
Questions about existing sewer, electric, water, and gas lines were briefly discussed, as were wetlands and existing trees forming natural boundaries around the proposed site. It was suggested that these features could be integrated into any design to the extent it is feasible.
As Solan put it, “I think the more trees we could keep, the nicer it is,” but he added that the committee would have to work that through with the architect.
At Norton School, 414 North Brooksvale Road, committee members discussed some of the logistical issues that will face the development. The construction site, it was suggested, will not be accessed via North Brooksvale Road, but rather by a right of way from Sharon Drive.
The current plan calls for the new school to be constructed on existing fields, while the current Norton building will be demolished after the project is complete. Solan acknowledged that construction work would impact the neighbors, but he said steps will be taken to minimize and mitigate that.
Ever the educator, Solan also remarked that the temporary construction wall could have “some visibility so that kids can see what’s happening. It would be kind of a neat learning experience for them.”
The group agreed that getting an in-person look at the sites was beneficial.
Committee Member Denis Rioux, an architect himself, commented toward the end of the visit that, “Looking at the two properties, they’re so different and they have unique challenges. That could lead me towards two architects instead of just one. It’s not the same project.”
Solan agreed, saying, “You couldn’t design one building and drop it on the properties.”
As to the possibility of having one firm design both, Rioux quipped, “If we do one firm with two teams, they’ll deliver both late.”
The committee got together again for a meeting on Dec. 19, where all members were in attendance along with Donofrio and District Chief Operating Officer Vincent Masciana.
The first order of business was selecting leadership and Richard Gusenberg was selected as chair, Gregory Rosenblatt as vice chair and Sarah Stevens-Morling as secretary.
The meeting then moved to the task of developing the Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) for architecture and construction services. Donofrio provided draft versions to the committee and most of the rest of the meeting was dedicated to going through those line by line and page by page.
Most of the changes to the language in the draft were minor corrections or clarifications, but questions for further discussion did arise, including the issue of whether to hire an owner’s representative.
Donofrio recommended that an owner’s representative be on site for when problems arise.
“There’s defective work that gets accepted by the design team and the CM (Construction Manager). There’s lack of coordination between trades. There’s out of sequence work. There’s all kinds of things that happen where you need the owner’s rep to advise you, and if the owner’s rep isn’t present in the field and doesn’t know these things are going on, the advice is pretty much useless,” Donofrio cautioned.
He added that, while having an owner’s rep for school projects isn’t currently the law in Connecticut, unlike in some other states, “the owner’s rep concept is finally being somewhat embraced by OSCGR (Office of School Construction Grants & Review),” in order to help school building committees composed of volunteers — especially those who may have less experience than Cheshire’s has — to navigate the technical details of the construction process.
The committee developed a preliminary timeline for the first quarter of 2023. Among these provisional dates was Jan. 9 for the release of the first RFQ.
A meeting schedule was approved as well. The School Building Committee will have regular public meetings on the second and the fourth Thursdays of each month, and a public comment opportunity is likely to appear on the agenda for next month’s meeting.
Records: Architect suggested making environmental report ‘disappear’
WALLINGFORD — A town councilor is raising concerns about potential safety hazards at the building set to be renovated into the town’s new police station over records indicating that an architect suggested making an environmental report “disappear.”
During a discussion on a proposal to form a new town maintenance committee that would monitor conditions at town meetings, Republican Craig Fishbein on Tuesday expressed concerns about not only existing buildings, but the future police station, pointing to minutes from an Oct. 13, 2021 Police Station Steering Committee meeting.
The town bought the property at 100 Barnes Road and is planning to renovate the former 3M office building into a new police station. At the Oct. 13 meeting, architect Brian Humes of Jacunski Humes Architects gave a report on environmental testing of the building.
“Mr. Humes reported that the draft report on PCB testing was released,” the minutes state. “He recommended that the town not continue further PCB testing. It is not a requirement in this State. PCBs may be present in caulking and masonry. It can create a domino effect. He suggested making the draft report disappear. Mr. Anderson agreed that since this is not a school, it should not be a concern.”
Jeffrey Anderson is the vice president of preconstruction at Downes Construction, the project’s construction manager.
Fishbein expressed concerns about that comment during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.
“We are going to put police officers in the building, and the minutes reflect that there is some reporting that came back and the recommendation has been made not to do any further testing, I guess, because additional PCBs may arise,” Fishbein said. “And the minutes reflect a recommendation (that the architect) ‘suggested making the draft report disappear.’ That’s troubling. Have we told the police union? That’s troubling.”
Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are a manufactured group of organic chemicals consisting of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine atoms, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection website.
“PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects. They have been shown to cause cancer in animals as well as a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including: effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. Studies in humans support evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs,” the website says.
Fishbein, an attorney and state representative from the 90th House District, said the wording in the minutes opens the town up to future litigation should anyone working in the building be diagnosed with cancer.
“It is troubling to learn that a consultant for the town would ever suggest making a report ‘disappear,’” he said in an email to the Record-Journal on Wednesday. “Even more troubling is there is no indication in the minutes of rejection of this proposition by any member of the committee, and therefore the natural assumption is that there was general agreement to do so.
“From my perspective, the only reason government would excise itself of this ordinarily public information would be to avail itself of liability should an employee of the town (here police officers and staff) be diagnosed with cancer and make a claim that it was caused by a known condition,” he said. “Government would respond with, ‘you have no proof’ because government had made that proof ‘disappear.’ I, for one, do not support such clandestine activities — neither in public or in private.”
Humes responded in an interview Wednesday that the comment reflected the fact that there are no requirements to test for PCBs and he does not recommend such testing.
“PCB investigations are a requirement for federally funded and federally supported projects. There is no federal funding which is being utilized for the renovation of the building for the Wallingford Police Department,” he said.
But he would not say that there aren’t any PCBs in the former office building, only that they are following the requirements for safety testing.
“I’m not saying there is any evidence of PCBs in that building. I don’t know,” he said. “We are following all safety protocols for all hazardous materials.”
Police Chief John Ventura said Wednesay he is trusting the professionals when it comes to any risks from contamination at the building.
“The way that it was presented to us throughout the process was that we had the experts testing the different various materials within the building,” he said. “So what we were told is that it is not a requirement in the state of Connecticut to test for these things, it’s just mandated for school projects and it was something they were not concerned about. At that point we just kind of trust what people tell us. We really didn’t question anything past that.”
Ventura said that he has no concerns about his officers moving to the new building, which is projected to happen during the summer of 2024.
“Obviously if there’s something we were unaware of, we would like to have that looked into, but based on what we were told by the experts in the field, it’s not something that is done and required and that’s not an issue based on where they believe these might have been located in masonry or caulking in the windows,” he said. “It’s our understanding that the entire building is going to be gutted and almost all that stuff would be removed so it’s more of a removal issue and not an actual occupancy or health issue within the building, so that’s what us at the police department are operating on. That’s the premise that we’re operating on.”
Democratic Town Councilor Sam Carmody said he wants to see further testing done at the building.
“It is concerning that anyone would say that the town should not continue PCB testing because it could create a ‘domino effect.’ It is inexcusable that someone would suggest this course of action and it is disgraceful that they would then cover it up,” he said. “This matter should be looked into right away.”
Here's how Norwich Public Utilities plans to locate and replace the city's lead pipes
NORWICH — The Flint, Michigan water crisis of 2014 drew national attention to the presence of lead pipe in the water supply. Now, part of that regulatory response is coming to Norwich.
Norwich Public Utilities, the entity that manages the city's water supply, estimates there are at least 800 private water service lines in the city with pipes that contain lead, and an upcoming survey is expected to reveal more. The water is protected with corrosion inhibitors, but the utility plans to begin replacing those lines this summer.
In December, the utility received $600,000 from the state bonding commission to replace 70 lines to private homes and businesses. While this first phase will be finished by Labor Day, it's part of a larger project to eliminate all lead water service lines in the city within five years, according to a press release.
This money comes from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed in Nov. 2021, which has a $15 billion section for replacing lead service lines across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
Norwich Public Utilities will still seek state funding to complete this $5.65 million dollar project. This doesn’t include $350,000 given earlier in 2022 to Norwich Public Utilities by the state for planning and surveying work, according to the press release.
Corrosion of pipes and solder can be a source of lead water contamination. While up to a quarter of a percent weighted average of lead is allowed in the wetted surfaces of pipes, and 0.2 percent for lead solder, the health consequences of elevated levels can include behavioral problems, low IQ and anemia in children, and hypertension, decreased kidney function and reproductive issues in adults, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
“This has been a longstanding problem in water systems across the nation and in Connecticut, in particular the older water systems,” said State Senator Cathy Osten, who helped secure the funding for Norwich Public Utilities as co-chair of the state General Assembly’s Appropriation Committee.
There is no imminent issue with Norwich’s drinking water quality, as the water is protected with corrosion inhibitors.
It’s still important to replace the service lines to keep up with regulatory standards, and because lead pipe is more likely to fail than newer pipe, Norwich Public Utilities General Manager Chris LaRose said.
A survey to determine an exact count of water service lines with lead pipes will kick off with a meeting on Feb. 2 at the Rose City Senior Center. Details on this meeting are forthcoming, said Norwich Public Utilities Communications and Community Outreach Manager Chris Riley.
“When we have our public information meeting, we’ll find people who are willing to let us in, do the inspections, verify that the existing pipes are still lead,” LaRose added. “A lot of this piping is on the customer’s side, the records aren’t always that great or well kept.”
There will only be an interruption of service for the homeowners during their service line replacement, LaRose said.
Even after the replacement, corrosion inhibitors will still be kept in the drinking water, as it’s an industry standard, and Norwich Public Utilities doesn’t have the authority to get rid of lead pipes built into a home’s own plumbing, which goes from the curb line in, LaRose said.
Through the project, customers will be kept informed as progress is made through the multi-year project, Riley said.
“We’re very focused on public health and public safety,” he said.
New year, new challenges for IIJA
As the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enters its second year, the landscape for civil work looks challenging in many ways. A volatile economy, battered supply chains and high demand for labor will all make it difficult for contractors to meet demand.
Amid the uncertainty, the IIJA provides a welcome stable infusion of $1.2 trillion in funding to a variety of construction sectors over five years. The legislation will boost a wide range of infrastructure work, from bridges to broadband, as well as bolster industries focused on low-carbon and American-made materials.
However, there are a number of headwinds that could hamper the rollout of federal infrastructure work in 2023, and overcoming them requires careful planning.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that all came together, but the biggest concern is: Is this going to become a perpetual raindrop that does not hit the ground? We need to make sure that things are all aligned so that it hits the ground sooner than later,” said American Society of Civil Engineers Senior Vice President K.N. “Guna” Gunalan.
Here are some of the likely challenges ahead.
Lack of subcontractor capacity
Large contractors will be able to adapt as needed to win these new federal jobs, according to Certified Public Accountant Jack Callahan, construction industry leader with New York City-based tax and advisory firm CohnReznick. The challenge will be for the primes to find enough subcontractors to staff them. The IIJA stipulates a certain number of MWBEs to meet its inclusion goals, which adds to the difficulty of finding enough of the right subs.
“You’ve got a very large diversity, equity and inclusion requirements built into these contracts. When you look at billion-dollar programs, and you look at 20% participation goals in there: Where do you find that many contractors with that much capacity to perform in what many cases are going to be highly complex, heavy civil infrastructure jobs?” said Callahan. “I think the large primes that have spent a lifetime gearing up will tackle this work, but where are they going to find the subcontractors, both from the traditional side and the diverse side?”
Still, Callahan thinks there are simple ways for contractors to improve their chances of finding the people they need — namely, pay bills on time and treat subcontractors professionally.
The country saw 40-year-high levels of inflation in June that hit certain building materials especially hard, such as lumber and cement. While prices for some key construction inputs have moderated, others are still elevated or remain volatile. Difficulty predicting prices means it’s harder to plan projects, and to assess and assign risk, said Gunalan.
The projects that move forward amid high prices will translate to less infrastructure bang for the federal buck. In light of this dynamic, some projects, such as the Des Moines International Airport, are adopting a phased approach since inflation has made it too expensive to conduct all of the work at once.
In addition, some state and local decision makers may be trying to time the market and push projects to later when prices are lower, according to Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. That could reduce the overall pace of building that the Biden administration hoped to achieve.
Materials delays and shortages
Although supply chains have bounced back somewhat since the early part of the pandemic, COVID-19-related shocks look set to continue and obtaining certain materials in a timely fashion will likely still prove challenging in 2023. This strain may be particularly noticeable in the spring, when construction season begins in the Midwest and Northeast, according to Callahan.
What’s more, the infrastructure act’s Buy America provision requires contractors to use a certain amount of U.S.-made materials, but since the country’s manufacturing capacity is still low and demand is set to skyrocket, it may take the limited number of American plants a long time to fulfill orders. Production of green materials, needed to fulfill Buy Clean requirements, is similarly in its early stages.
In light of these challenges and high levels of economic uncertainty, Christopher Livingstone, managing director of project finance and consulting with CohnReznick, thinks there will be a great deal of negotiation between primes, subs, suppliers and jurisdictions. Cooperation, communication and flexibility will be key to getting the most value from the federal funds.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to use these dollars to make meaningful change,” said Livingstone. “We need to think very carefully up front about how we do that and what the best way to do that is, and some of that is to use new approaches.”
The infrastructure workforce has big gaps in hiring, training and retention, a December 2022 report from nonpartisan think tank Brookings Institution found, especially among younger students, women and people of color. The IIJA will only drive demand higher. Ken Simonson, chief economist with Associated General Contractors of America, expects the dearth of labor to be a key problem in 2023.
“I expect labor availability to remain the no. 1 challenge for most contractors, with continuing high job opening rates and rising wages,” Simonson said.
The IIJA also stipulates a certain number of roles be filled through apprenticeships, and Callahan questions whether there are enough people who want to take part at this time, and whether unions have had enough time to gear up a pipeline of candidates for these roles.
“We all have labor challenges as is today, but as you look at some of these mandates and the actual stipulation of how they play down to the prime contractors and subcontractors, is the union workforce robust enough to meet all of these requirements?” said Callahan.
Slow tech adoption
Since the IIJA is being carried out in part by state agencies, it will likely draw contractors who have not worked on federal jobs before and are not familiar with their unique stipulations, such as security clearance and cybersecurity requirements. That means these builders will need to get educated on federal compliance, and quickly.
“It’s [a matter of] having a team of people to reach out to and making sure that before you bid the job, you understand what all the ramifications might be and getting the skill set and tools you need to build up for it,” said Callahan.
Construction is notoriously slow to adopt technology, and Callahan thinks that’s holding many contractors back. More tech investment can free up scarce workers for other roles, and tools like BIM can make complex projects more organized and transparent. To that end, the IIJA contains $550 million to promote the use of construction tech on its jobs.
Sector watch: ‘A lot of money on the table’ for civil construction this year
Editor’s note: To kick off 2023, Construction Dive is taking a look at the outlook for the country’s top construction verticals. Click here for the second story in the series.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will boost activity in the civil construction space in 2023, according to Dodge Construction Network.
Dodge expects civil construction starts, such as public transit, roads, bridges, EV charging stations, water-related projects and power plants, to total $281 billion in 2023, a 16% jump from last year. That’s because infrastructure funds will steadily flow into the market in 2023. As of July 2022, only a small fraction of IIJA dollars had entered the market, according to Dodge.
Out of all the IIJA dollars already allocated for projects, 19% has made its way to road and bridge projects, 21% to public transit projects, 15% to EV charging stations and 14% to water infrastructure, said Branch.
“There’s a lot of money still on the table waiting to be spent,” said Branch. “We continue to think 2023 and 2024 are the best years for infrastructure construction,” he said, though it’s possible that timeline could get pushed out by a year.
Dodge’s forecast assumes that 85% of infrastructure money will be spent by 2027.
For that reason, there remains much runway for construction activity in the civil space, said Branch. Still, questions remain whether the bulk of that activity will begin in 2023, or get pushed out to 2024.
Below are the 2023 outlooks for highway and bridge construction, water-related infrastructure and power plants.
Big year ahead for highway and bridge construction
Public funding will continue to support construction activity in the highway and bridge sector, said Branch.
Over the past year, that money started stretching across the U.S., said Branch. For example, road and bridge construction in Texas jumped 40% in 2022 and accounted for 12% of all highway and bridge construction activity in the country. Other states, like Florida and South Carolina, have also seen surges in activity over the last year, said Branch.
Dodge pegs highway and bridge construction starts both to jump 20% in 2023 to reach $94.4 billion and $26.6 billion, respectively. Together, that’s $121 billion worth of activity in the highway and bridge sector in 2023, eclipsing 2022’s level of $100.8 billion.
No recession concerns for environmental public work activity
The infrastructure boost will boil over to environmental public works in 2023 as well, said Branch. That includes water-related infrastructure, such as dams, reservoirs and sewage.
Dodge expects starts in the sector to total $68.8 billion in 2023, more than a 14% jump from 2022.
Water supply systems will lead work in the sector, with a projected $23.8 billion worth of activity in 2023, a 12% jump from a year ago. Reservoirs and sewage systems closely follow, with about $22.8 billion and $22.2 billion worth of activity in 2023, a 15% and 17% increase from last year, respectively, according to Dodge.
“If we think about infrastructure and the influence of the federal dollars, we’re not expecting much change here [due to] a recession,” said Branch. “A recession would lower the demand for construction workers and put more downward pressure on prices. So, if we were to go into recession in 2023, it could mean here for infrastructure that more real work actually gets done for the dollars allocated.”
More demand for domestic power and gas plant projects
The Inflation Reduction Act will continue to boost the renewable energy market in 2023, a boon for the power and gas plant sector, according to Dodge.
Dodge pegs the power and gas plants category, which includes local utilities, wind plants, solar plants and LNG export facilities, to reach $56.4 billion in 2023, a 7% increase from 2022’s level of $52.5 billion.
Additionally, as more European countries push to wean themselves off Russian natural gas, those companies would turn to U.S.-based LNG projects. For example, LNG production off the coast of Louisiana can support the European Union’s goal to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, said Jim Breuer, Fluor’s Energy Solutions Group president, in a company release.
That should continue to boost activity in the power and gas plant sector well beyond 2023.
“There’s already been a bigger buildout to [LNG] capacity, but there could be even more,” said Branch. “But the process to get those approved is pretty long, so I’d view that more as a 2024 element, rather than a 2023.”