All Three Major Sectors Add to February Construction Starts

Non-building construction was up 87% in January 2015 and gained another 9% in February, leaving that market 89% above the first two months of last year, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. Non-residential building jumped on the bandwagon with a 42% monthly increase in the dollar value of starts, putting that market 22% above the first two months of 2014. Homebuilding also started to strengthen, with a 5% monthly gain in February, lifting that market 7% above a year ago. The non-residential building sector got a major boost from the start of a $3-billion energy project in Texas.

New Fracking Regulations Face Industry Opposition

Republican lawmakers and the oil-and-gas industry are ramping up their plans to block newly finalized regulations for hydraulic fracturing—also known as fracking—on federal and tribal lands. Opponents hope to prevent the new regulations from going into effect in 90 days, starting from the March 26 publication date in the Federal Register. They say the rule is unnecessary and will make engineering, construction and drilling more expensive.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for Wyoming on March 20, just hours after the Interior Dept. released what it called "common sense" regulations to improve safety and help protect groundwater by updating requirements for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and public disclosure of chemicals. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers said they are taking action in the House and Senate to block the Bureau of Land Management from implementing the regulations. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a March 17 speech said the current regulations for fracking on public lands are more than 30 years old and have not kept up with developments in technology.

Colorado Hotel Moves Ahead Despite Multiple Lawsuits

The $800-million Gaylord Rockies Hotel & Resort project will break ground by the end of the year, despite a pending audit by the state and multiple lawsuits against it, says the mayor of Aurora, Colo., where the project is located. "The target for groundbreaking is this year," says Mayor Steve Hogan. The 1,500-room resort and conference center, to be built between Denver International Airport and downtown Denver, is facing legal challenges about the validity of state tourism tax incentives granted to its original developer, Gaylord Entertainment, which bowed out of the deal after the incentives were granted in 2013.

Project opponents argue that RIDA Development, the new developer, needs only $735 million to build the project, rather than the proposed $823 million, which could invalidate the need for $81.4 million in tax-increment financing from the state and some of the $300 million in local incentives. The hotel, which would become the state's largest, also is opposed by a consortium of central Denver hotel operators who predict it will hurt their occupancy rates.

Scaffold Collapse Kills Three

The March 23 collapse of a mast-climber scaffold at an 11-story office-building project in downtown Raleigh killed three workers. The incident occurred at approximately 11 a.m., according to the project's general contractor, Choate Construction Co. According to news reports, crews with Associated Scaffolding, Raleigh, were preparing to dismantle the mast climbers when the system collapsed, while workers were still on the scaffold. The three workers killed were identified as Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33; and Anderson Almeida, 33. A fourth worker, identified as Elmer Guevara, was injured. Mike Hampton, chief operations officer with Choate, said the cause of the accident was still unknown. A statement posted on Associated Scaffolding's website stated, "We at Associated Scaffolding are working with OSHA as they determine the cause of this tragic event." The Occupational Safety and Health Division of the North Carolina Dept. of Labor is leading the investigation. The Charter Square project, with construction costs estimated at $63 million, was scheduled to open later this year, according to reports.

In US Pact, Gilbane Settles Prepurchase DBE Fraud by Unit

Gilbane Building Co., Providence, R.I., has agreed to pay $1.1 million to resolve federal false-claims allegations related to a Florida subsidiary's creation of a service-disabled front company to win a U.S. Coast Guard contract, the U.S. Justice Dept. said on March 18. But the company in a statement says there was no finding of wrongdoing by Gilbane because the alleged actions of Sarasota-based W.G. Mills Inc. occurred before its December 2010 acquisition. A Gilbane spokesman says the Mills executives connected with the alleged fraud have left the company.