Construction Starts Decline 10% in July

After showing improvement during the spring, the pace of construction starts has retreated over the past three months, declining another 10% in July, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. Through the first seven months of the year, starts totaled $262.9 billion, a 4% gain over the same period of a year ago. "Construction is still struggling to gain upward traction," says MHC's chief economist, Robert Murray. "Public works and institutional buildings are being adversely affected by the tough fiscal climate, while a faint upturn in commercial buildings becomes more tenuous," he says.

Bechtel-B&W Role Questioned After Break-in at DOE Nuke Site

The U.S. Energy Dept.'s Y-12 nuclear-weapons facility in Tennessee restarted operations on Aug. 15, two weeks after it was shut down in the wake of a security breach that could oust the site management contractor, a joint venture of Bechtel and Babcock & Wilcox. Work restarted under "enhanced federal oversight," says the contractor, which also replaced senior leadership at the site. Three anti-nuclear activists broke into the Y-12 complex on July 28, entered a storage area for highly enriched uranium and sprayed-painted anti-war slogans on the walls. On Aug. 10, DOE sent a letter to the contractor threatening to begin termination proceedings in 30 days if it cannot justify why its contract should continue. "We have implemented a number of corrective actions, including additional security training for more than 4,500 employees," says a contractor spokeswoman. Calling the breach "deeply troubling," Energy Secretary Steven Chu has required other DOE nuclear site managers to give "written assurance" of security-policy compliance. The contractor got stellar marks in its performance review in 2011, earning a $56-million award fee.

Emergency Work Under Way To Halt Saltwater Intrusion

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., Oak Brook, Ill., beat two other bids to win an emergency, $8.1-million contract on a five-day turnaround project from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a salt sill across the Mississippi River below New Orleans. Drought has reduced flow, which is letting saltwater push up from the Gulf of Mexico, imperiling water supplies. Work started on Aug. 15 to build a 1.3-million-cu-yd, 2,000-ft-long, 15-ft-tall sill across the riverbed to keep bottom-clinging saltwater from ascending. Similar sills were built in 1988 and 1999. Bill Hanson, Great Lakes vice president for business development, says GLDD pulled the massive suction cutter-head dredge from a Texas job for a quick start. GLDD was given six weeks, but Hansen says it may finish in half that.

First Building Commissioning Standard Under Development

A draft commissioning standard from ASHRAE is out for public comment until Oct. 1. "Standard 202P: Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems" is intended to identify the best practices and a minimum acceptable commissioning process, as described in ASHRAE's "Guideline 0-2005: the Commissioning Process." The aim is to produce a standard that allows commissioning agents to follow a process for verifying and documenting that buildings and systems meet performance criteria. The goal is to provide a standard that can be adopted by code bodies and used by standards developers. More information is available at reviews.

TVA Sees $2.7B Capital Spend, As CEO Says He Will Retire

Tom Gilgore, CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority and architect of its drive to diversify the power producer's generation mix and lower rates, said on Aug. 16 he would retire, possibly by year's end. Kilgore announced his decision after proposing TVA's 2013 fiscal-year budget, which the board approved. The year begins on Oct. 1. During Kilgore's tenure, TVA added new gas-fired generation and began work on three nuclear units. TVA's 2013 budget includes $2.7 billion in capital expenditures on environmental and transmission projects, capacity expansions and the new nuclear units. But TVA may not add a scrubber to the 702-MW coal-fired Allen plant, a project approved last year. TVA will decide within 18 to 24 months whether to add the scrubber, convert the plant to burn natural gas or retire it and build a new combined-cycle plant. The Sierra Club says TVA could waste billions of dollars keeping aging coal plants instead of pursuing lower-cost options. Kilgore was TVA's first president after Congress changed its governing structure.