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CT Construction Digest Tuesday March 14, 2023

DEEP Offers $17m Grant for Old Lyme Sewer Project, Keeps Consent Order

Cate Hewitt

OLD LYME — The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will offer $17 million in grants toward the cost of the beach sewer project, according to a meeting on Friday that included state officials, the town and the beach associations. 

“With those additional funds that brings the project back into a reasonable cost for the residents, and the town of Old Lyme,” said Douglas Whalen, president of Old Colony Beach Association, in a phone call with CT Examiner. 

The long-delayed project would install sewers in Sound View Beach, the town’s beach area, as well as three chartered beach communities – Miami Beach Association, Old Colony Beach, and Old Lyme Shores – to satisfy a 2012 state consent order.

Costs for the project were originally estimated at about $10 million, but bids came in at $17.5 to 18.5 million – deemed too high by the four entities – and were re-estimated at $14.1 million to $21.1 million.

In a Feb. 1 letter, Old Lyme Shores declared the project too expensive and said the association would ask for the state to modify or lift the consent order. 

But in Friday’s meeting, DEEP “informed Old Lyme Shores that there will be no change in the consent order. The consent order will stay as is. We must conform to the consent order,” Whalen told CT Examiner.  

Whalen said in addition to the $17 million grant, the town is also applying for a State and Tribal Assistance Grant, or STAG, through Rep. Joe Courtney’s office. 

“We had originally applied for $14 million, but now that we have the $17 million coming from the DEEP, we’re trying to apply for a $3 million STAG grant,” he said. “We’re applying for all these different things and hopefully something sticks.”

First Selectman Tim Griswold said that the distribution of the $17 million grant money among the four entities has yet to be determined. For the shared infrastructure, the town is responsible for 29.7 percent of costs.

“The agreement has certain ratios prescribed but that’s for the shared infrastructure, so this wouldn’t be necessarily tied exactly to that,” Griswold said. 

Griswold said it was unclear whether multiple grants — including the 25 percent Clean Water Funds grant that is already approved for the project — would be be workable.

“Whether all of the grants would tolerate multiple grants and how it all fits together — but if we can parlay enough of this stuff, then the major objections go away,” he said. 

In addition, Whalen said that State Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, and State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, are applying for a $26 million bond for the project. 

“If everything runs smooth, our goal would be to get the funding in place before June and try and go back out to bid by the summer and award the bids by the fall, which means we could have construction by the end of 2023. So it’s a real big, big positive. Things are moving along at breakneck speed,” said Whalen.

Norwich to apply for funding to build new Greeneville, Stanton elementary schools

Matt Grahn

NORWICH — A massive $385 million project to revamp Norwich’s school buildings moves a step closer.

The Norwich City Council approved resolutions giving the Norwich Board of Education permission to apply to the state Department of Administrative Services for funding for three of the four elementary school projects – Greeneville, Stanton and Moriarty elementary schools. School Building Committee Chair Mark Bettencourt said the application for and the work on the Greeneville and Stanton school projects would be done first.

“We’re trying to get the ground running with the grant application process,” he said.

Stanton is a priority because it’s a worn-out building, and building the new Stanton and Greeneville schools first provides more flexibility for the rest of the process.

“We’ll be able to move kids around and do what’s necessary that way,” Bettencourt said.

More:Multi-million dollar school building project passes in Norwich. Here's what happens next.

How the city got here

Back in November, voters approved the city’s plans to spend a total of $385 million to discontinue use of all the existing elementary schools and build four large new ones, alongside turning the Samuel Huntington Elementary School into the new district office, and a remodel of Teachers Memorial Global Magnet Elementary School. The cost is $385 million, but the cost to the city was said to be only $149 million, after getting state grants.

A self-imposed deadline for the application is Oct. 1, but it will likely be filed sooner. Bettencourt said the application should be in by the end of June, but state Sen. Cathy Osten said the city should have the application in by April or May.

This is so the city would get added to the School Construction Priority List for 2023-2024, which is how the state handles grants for school construction. The project will be voted on by the state’s Education Committee to be added to the list. Then, it needs to be voted for approval as a part of the education implementer during the budget process for the state's 2023-2024 fiscal year, Osten said.

The City Council resolutions were a requirement of the grant application process. The resolutions to seek grant funding for the remaining school projects will come at a later date, Bettencourt said.

In January, the city sought an owner’s representative for the school building project, and Norwich picked Construction Solutions Group, LLC. Bettencourt was out with the owner’s representative and Norwich Public Schools personnel conducting site inspections Wednesday. With Stanton, there have been septic and sewer issues, but it is being fixed, he said.

Bringing back an elementary school to Greeneville

On Monday, former Greeneville Elementary School Assistant Principal Jan Swicki said to the city council that she hopes returning a school to Greeneville is a positive, and that it becomes a hub for the community. She also said she would miss the current Stanton building when it's gone, as she was also principal there.

When the School Building Committee came up with the school plans, Greeneville was chosen for a location due to the available land at the site of the former school, and the area’s population density, Bettencourt said.  

After the original Greeneville School closed over a decade ago, the students needed to be bused to different schools. Some families in the area may have children going to different schools in the city, making things hard to coordinate, said Greeneville Neighborhood Committee vice president Cynthia Jean-Mary.

“It’s going to be nice to have families with multiple children at the same school,” she said.

Greeneville is an up-and-coming part of the city, and having a school back there would complement an area with its own main street and fire house.

“It’s got all the pieces of the puzzle to bring things back around in the area,” she said.

Federal infrastructure funds begin to flow, mostly to roadwork

Dan Zukowski

Local and state government contracts for highway, road and bridge projects dramatically increased between 2021 and 2022, a sign that bipartisan infrastructure funds are starting to have an impact, but contracts for rail and transit projects slowed significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis conducted by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The dollar value of contract awards for all transportation projects jumped 25% from 2021 to 2022, with the number of contracts up 12.4% to 39,500, according to ARTBA Chief Economist Alison Premo Black.

“It’s a very positive sign that money from the federal investment is starting to make its way into the project pipeline,” said Black in an interview. She explained that state and local governments began to commit funds in 2021, the year the bipartisan infrastructure law was enacted, and last year started to award contracts, “a leading indicator of what is going to be done.”

Highway, pavement, bridge and tunnel projects vastly outnumbered rail and transit projects in 2022, both in total value and the number of projects. The 38,220 contracts for roadway-related construction totaled $102.2 billion, according to Black, while the 180 rail and transit contracts were valued at $3.5 billion. That represents a significant decline from 2019, when $11 billion in rail and transit contracts were awarded, according to data provided by Black. 

The majority of rail and transit contracts go to mass transit, Black explained. “The work has continued to be ongoing, but that pipeline has really dropped dramatically over the last few years.” She attributed the decline to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s not surprising that the capital investment has been scaled back while agencies have been so concerned about operations.”

In a separate ARTBA analysis of how infrastructure law highway and bridge funds had been used through Sep. 30, 2022, 46% went to roadway repair or reconstruction work while just 1% went to bike and pedestrian facilities.

Many states are looking to ramp up their spending on transportation infrastructure. According to ARTBA’s Transportation Investment Advocacy Center, state legislatures have already introduced more than 150 bills to increase transportation revenue so far in 2023. The governors of Alaska, Michigan, Mississippi, Texas and Wisconsin have proposed increased transportation funding for their upcoming fiscal year budgets.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey proposed new spending on transportation projects including the proposed intercity passenger rail service from Boston to Springfield and Pittsfield.

Infrastructure, engineering and construction firms are beginning to see the effects of the 2021 infrastructure law. “We have already started to see some infrastructure bill funding,” said Carey Smith, chairwoman, president and CEO of Parsons Corp., speaking on the engineering company’s Feb. 15 earnings conference call. “We’ve assumed that we’re going to see a ramp-up as we approach the end of ’23 and going into ‘24, with a likely peak around the ’26 time frame.”

Bob Pragada, CEO of Jacobs, said the company has helped its clients secure more than $1 billion in competitive grants from the infrastructure law since it was enacted. “With another four years locked in and robust funding, the U.S. infrastructure climate is strong,” he said on the company’s Feb. 7 earnings call.

Black also sees a strong future for infrastructure projects. “I’m looking forward to more projects getting out the door and to see some of these projects actually start to be completed,” she said.

Eversource, Ørsted eye new 884MW offshore wind farm in New England

Greg Bordonaro

Utility giant Eversource and Danish power company Ørsted announced they have submitted a joint proposal to build a second large-scale wind farm in Rhode Island. 

The proposed 884-megawatt Revolution Wind 2 project would provide power for more than 500,000 Rhode Island homes and represents more than $2 billion in direct economic impact to the Ocean State, the companies said. 

The project is in response to Rhode Island’s offshore wind solicitation and will lead to creation of hundreds of local jobs and significant investments in port improvements and shipbuilding, the companies said. 

The carbon emissions achieved by Revolution Wind 2 would be the equivalent of taking more than 265,000 cars off New England roads, the companies said. 

The bid comes even as Eversource continues to weigh its options to sell its 50% stake in its original Revolution Wind farm project that aims provide Connecticut 304 MW of clean energy and 704M overall. That project -- to be located more than 15 miles south of the Rhode Island coast and 32 miles southeast of the Connecticut coast -- also involves the redevelopment of the New London State Pier into a heavy-lift cargo and deep-water port with easy access to offshore wind lease areas. 

Revolution Wind has faced criticisms because of cost overruns on the State Pier redevelopment. 

CT could see major boost from nuclear submarine deal

Lisa Hagen

As President Joe Biden unveiled the initial details of an international deal to provide nuclear-powered submarines in San Diego on Monday, he pointed to the U.S.S. Missouri behind him in the Pacific Ocean. The construction of that Virginia-class attack sub was awarded two decades ago to Electric Boat’s facility in Groton.

Biden called it a “vanguard of U.S. naval power” as the U.S. agreed to send up to five Virginia-class submarines to Australia over the coming years to help build its first conventionally armed, nuclear-powered fleet.

Electric Boat and Connecticut’s vast submarine industrial base could stand to greatly benefit from Australia’s acquisition as one of the primary manufacturers of the Virginia-class model.

A security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS) could have wide-ranging international and domestic implications on security as well as shipbuilding in eastern Connecticut. The agreement involves all three countries, but the acquisition would begin in the U.S., which has the largest capability when it comes to production and the technology behind nuclear-powered subs.

Pending congressional approval, Australia would initially buy three Virginia-class submarines and could buy two additional attack vessels. The first delivery of subs to the country could happen in the early 2030s.

The deal could be significant for companies like General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and the suppliers that make up the multibillion-dollar industry. Electric Boat locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island handle much of the Virginia-class shipbuilding along with Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. But additional details about the production and delivery of the subs and the involvement of these companies were not a part of Monday’s announcement.

Even before the release of the framework, Electric Boat has been seeking to greatly expand its operations by aiming to hire another 5,000 workers and thousands more for the foreseeable future to bolster its workforce and keep up with the demand of both the Virginia-class and Columbia-class programs. On top of that, the Biden administration wants to again increase spending that would help support the submarine industrial base.

But there are some lingering concerns related to workforce development and funding to meet production needs for the U.S. Navy’s fleet and now the vessels requested in the AUKUS deal.

“We look forward to working with the Navy and our industry partners to use our knowledge and expertise to support Australia’s acquisition of nuclear submarines and the development of that country’s shipbuilding infrastructure,” Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, said in a statement. “The AUKUS agreement underscores the critical role submarines play in the defense of our nation and our allies and calls attention to the importance of continuing to grow our submarine industrial base here in the United States.”

Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the submarine acquisition portion of the deal from a San Diego naval base after 18 months of discussions that will in part help Australia replace its diesel-electric submarines with a nuclear fleet. Supporters of AUKUS view the agreement as a way to protect the Indo-Pacific region from any threats from China as it builds up its own Navy.

At Monday’s event, Biden gave a shout out to Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who also attended the event and has been a strong supporter of the pact. Courtney, whose eastern Connecticut district includes Electric Boat’s Groton facility, founded the AUKUS Working Group in Congress and has been an advocate through his role as the top Democrat on the House Armed Services’ Seapower Subcommittee.

Courtney has touted the deal as critical “to deter potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific” as well as promising news for shipbuilding in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Virginia.

“Australia’s purchase of up to five Virginia-class submarines more than justifies Electric Boat’s plans to hire almost 30,000 high-skilled jobs in the next five years,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a statement. “This is a once-in-a-generation undertaking that will fuel tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and bring economic stability to Groton for years to come. I’m proud to see our state play a major role in this historic announcement.”

When asked whether Australia would get new or used subs prior to Monday’s announcement, Courtney said he expects the country to receive ones that are currently in the construction phase, though it is possible the country would also acquire new ones. He said the Virginia class has a shelf-life of at least 33 years and any used subs going to Australia would get “deep maintenance and repair.”

While the purchase is not expected to happen for another decade, the Connecticut-manufactured submarines will make their mark in Australia much sooner.

Australia will have their current Collins-class diesel electric fleet restored for another decade before the deliveries of the nuclear-powered ships. And in the meantime, four Virginia-class subs from the U.S. and one from Britain’s Astute class will have a “rotational presence” in Perth, Australia. This effort could begin as early as 2027 while Australia builds a new naval facility in Adelaide.

Aside from the acquisition piece of the deal, Australia is investing in workforce development as it gears up to operate its own nuclear fleet. Congress has already authorized Australian naval officers to train at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in South Carolina with the goal of having them eventually on U.S. submarines. Australia also plans to have hundreds of workers train at U.S. and British shipyards to gain specialized skills.

Courtney said he also expects them to have a presence in Connecticut since Groton has a school where people go after completing the one in Charleston.

“There will no doubt be a lot of foot traffic from Australian personnel in Connecticut,” Courtney said in an interview prior to Monday’s announcement.

AUKUS relies heavily on the U.S. as well as on Britain since Australia is essentially starting from scratch, but the pact is structured in a way that will help the country operate independently with nuclear-powered capabilities and protect allied interests in the region when it comes to China.

In addition to the planned purchase from the U.S. in the 2030s, Australia will eventually transition to subs designed by the U.K. that use the technology from America’s naval nuclear propulsion program about a decade later.

While the news could be a huge boon for the submarine industry, some members of Congress have voiced concerns about U.S. capacity to build submarines for its own fleet as well as supplying them to Australia. In a letter to the White House, leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee warned about the U.S. having enough capacity to do both.

“We believe current conditions require a sober assessment of the facts to avoid stressing the U.S. submarine industrial base to the breaking point,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and retired Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wrote in a December letter. Reed’s home state also includes an Electric Boat facility.

Courtney said they shared “legitimate concerns” but believes the U.S. can keep up with the pace of the demand, arguing that the deal is important for national security interests in the region with China’s own missile technology.

There have also been concerns over the tech sharing aspect of the agreement as well as export controls. Under an agreement brokered decades ago, the U.S. has shared such technology only once before with Britain.

But Courtney argued that the growing investments from the Navy in the submarine industry are “not a one-year blip in the budget.”

As part of last year’s legislation to fund the government for the rest of fiscal year 2023, Congress approved $751 million in workforce development, supply chain support and facility expansion for the submarine industrial base. For specific submarine programs, $6.5 billion was allocated to keep up with the construction of two Virginia-class subs a year at Electric Boat for the next few years.

In the White House’s recent budget request for fiscal year 2024, the administration is seeking $255.8 billion for the Department of the Navy, which is an $11 billion increase since the last fiscal year. That proposal includes $10.3 billion to fund the Virginia-class program and the two-sub procurement, a substantial increase from what it secured in the government funding package known as the omnibus.

Courtney projected confidence that those investments will allow the U.S. to meet the new capacity.

“That’s definitely a generational surge of work that the U.S. submarine base is taking on,” Courtney said, adding that the omnibus made an “unprecedented investment in things the Navy hasn’t done much in the past like workforce development, supply chain development, funding for more facilities.”

“I don’t buy this notion that we’re in a zero sum place taking on more work with AUKUS,” he added. “Given the importance of subs right now, with China’s missile technology, subs are still the most effective platform to create deterrence.”