NJ Clearing Clouds Over Offshore Wind Power?

NEW JERSEY WILL MOVE closer to becoming the nation's first offshore wind power producer if a planned 24-MW pilot project off the coast of Atlantic City obtains its last permit and approval under a state incentive program. The firm expects both as early as this fall.

Fishermen's Energy, a consortium of mostly East Coast fishing companies, has received all the necessary state permits to build a demonstration-scale, six-turbine offshore wind farm about 2.8 miles from Atlantic City, says Rhonda Jackson, Fishermen's Energy outreach director. The firm is waiting for a water permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it can move to the next phase, however.

Fishermen's Energy is also waiting for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to approve its Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificate (OREC) application. ORECs help provide funding and tax credits to qualified firms that support offshore wind projects.

The BPU is reviewing the application, which so far is New Jersey's first and only one in state waters, says a BPU spokesman. The agency anticipates opening an OREC application process for projects located in federal waters by year's end, he says. He did not provide further details.

Fishermen's Energy chose AECOM for project and construction management as well as engineering and procurement services. Completion is expected in September 2012.

Jackson would not comment on project costs or other possible construction-related contractors. "We're in various stages of negotiations with a network of contractors," she says.

The firm also plans to build a 350-MW farm about 12 miles offshore in federal waters by 2015. However, like other proposed offshore wind farms in federal waters, this one faces an uphill climb without further support from the federal government, analysts say.

There are no offshore wind projects currently in operation or under construction in the U.S., says Brandi Colander, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Air and Energy Group. One of the reasons for the holdup is a cumbersome permitting process that can take seven to 10 years, a formidable stretch when compared with the two-year time line for coal plants, she says. (For more on this story, visit enr.com/newyork and click on News.)

New York CITY Construction Starts Fall Sharply In First Half

NYC CONSTRUCTION starts tumbled nearly 40% to $6.4 billion in the first half of 2011, compared with the same period a year ago, according to a recent New York Building Congress analysis of McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge data. The data reflects the estimated value of each project and includes starts from all sectors, including new construction, renovations and non-building activity such as bridges and water supply systems.

Given the nearly $11 billion in starts for the same time last year, the latest numbers are "extremely disappointing" and show relative weakness in each sector, says Richard T. Anderson, Building Congress president. He says there are signs of an improvement in the second half of this year, however, as building permits are up 12% year on year, offering hope for a modest residential construction rebound.

In the first half of 2011, non-building starts dropped 38% to $1 billion, a far cry from the $3.5 billion in infrastructure projects started in the first half of 2008, shortly after the recession began in late 2007, the trade group says.

The residential sector also maintained its downward spin, dropping 35% to $840 million, and the non-residential sector fell 40% to $4.6 billion.

Region's Jobs Data Disappoints

NEW YORK CITY lost 6,600 construction jobs between July 2010 and July 2011, a 6% decline and one of the largest job losses nationwide, according to an analysis of federal employment data by the Associated General Contractors of America, Arlington, Va. Industry employment dropped in 148 out of 337 U.S. cities, rose in 136 and stayed the same in 52, the trade group says.

Camden, N.J., cut 1,700 jobs from its payrolls, or 8%, while the Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., region slashed 1,300, also representing 8%.

"Even as we are beginning to experience a modest increase in private-sector construction activity, public construction budgets are contracting," says Ken Simonson, AGC of America's chief economist. "The big worry for construction workers is that private demand will again slip while governments continue to cut back on infrastructure investments."

The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga., region lost the most industry jobs of all cities, at 8,300, or 9%.

Cities adding jobs include the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Ill., area, which grew payrolls by more than 12,900 jobs, or 11%. That is more than any other city during that same time period.

Project Update: Several Building Plans Emerge

CONSTRUCTION STARTS and employment may be down in the region, but several owners recently unveiled new project plans. These include New York City-based United American Land's plans to develop 49,000 sq ft of retail space in the Brooklyn Municipal Building at 210 Joralemon St. Under the deal, part of the city's ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Brooklyn, UAL will pay $10 million to develop the western portion of the first, second and below-grade floors of the 13-story, 383,000-sq-ft structure.

The project is expected to create 64 full-time construction jobs. Construction is set to begin in 2012. Contractors have not yet been chosen, says an industry source.

Sherida Paulson, principal at PKSB Architects in New York, was chosen to design the space. New York-based Mckenzie, Voorhees & Gmelin designed the building, which was erected in 1925.

In downtown Manhattan, the 40-year-old Delancey and Essex Municipal Parking Garage is slated for a new cable facade under a recently announced $4-million NYC Dept. of Transportation renovation project.

A construction manager has not been chosen yet, and the project will go out to bid this month, says a representative for Michielli + Wyetzner Architects, New York, which designed the facade. Construction is expected to begin by early 2012, with completion anticipated by the end of 2012.

In Connecticut, Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceutical announced plans to invest $42.5 million during the next two years to build a 63,000-sq-ft research and development unit on its 294-acre campus in Ridgefield and Danbury, Conn. Completion is slated for 2013. The company says it also hopes to gain approval this year for a $65-million pilot facility on the campus.

Several Connecticut hospitals are also planning projects that are expected to take shape in the next year. These include Gaylord Hospital of Wallingford, which says it will build a solar thermal hot water heating system on its flat roof. Construction on the $550,000 system, which will provide two-thirds of the hospital's hot water needs, is set to begin shortly.

Connecticut's Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently signed a bill to create a state-of-the-art research and technology park on 300 acres of land at the University of Connecticut campus. The bill includes funding for design, site development and infrastructure improvements as well as construction of a 125,000-sq-ft facility slated for completion in 2015. The park will eventually include multiple buildings.

Judge Deems PLAs Legal

U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE ROBERT Patterson Jr. has ruled that project labor agreements (PLAs) between New York City and the Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group that represents about 50 local trades unions, do not violate the federal National Labor Relations Act.

The agreements, first reached in 2009 to "improve efficiency by preventing strikes and standardizing work rules," include the construction of a new police academy and a 911 call center, both part of $6 billion worth of city infrastructure projects.

To back up its decision, the court referred to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined that PLAs used to expedite a Boston Harbor clean-up project were lawful.

The Building Industry Electrical Contractors Association and United Electrical Contractors Association, however, contend that PLAs are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act. Alan Pollock, a lawyer representing the contractors, says the judge's decision is disappointing.

"We intend to appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals," says Pollock, a partner with NYC law firm Robinson Brog Leinward Greene Genevese & Gluck.

The PLAs are expected to save $300 million on public infrastructure projects and create 1,800 new construction jobs, say lawyers for the city.

Buildings Dept. Creates New Job

THE NYC BUILDINGS Dept. has named Fred S. Mosher Jr. to the newly created position of deputy commissioner of building development. The position was created to focus on streamlining DOB's construction project approval process, according to the agency.

In his new role, Mosher will oversee construction plan examinations, manage new efforts to facilitate development throughout the city and work to increase efficiency of the construction plan review process. He will also lead the department's "Get It Done" initiative, launched last May, to accelerate the construction approval process by bringing together multiple city agencies and industry members to review proposed projects.

Mosher has served as a senior technical architect at Skidmore Owings & Merrill since 2002, and has led the design and construction of some of the largest transportation facilities in North America.