Thomas F. Armistead/ENR
Connecticut project brings Williams (left) to the Northeast.
Owners want to know that their contractors are fully committed to the success of their project. Brett Williams understands that. He and two of his key staffers sold their homes in Kansas City and bought in Connecticut, where Northeast Utilities is constructing
one of the largest transmission projects in the U.S. That’s extremely rare in transmission construction, where crews routinely move several times per year. “We came to Connecticut and burned our ships,” says Williams. “We said we’re going to make this thing work.”
As program manager for Kansas City-based Burns & McDonnell, he’s overseeing NU’s $1.3-billion program to construct 69 miles of new 345-kV transmission line from Middletown to Norwalk, Conn., and reconstruct 57 miles of existing 115-kV lines. After years of controversy, construction began in April 2006. The line is to be in service in 2009.
In the day’s first meeting, a 48-in. computer monitor mounted on the wall displays the right-of-way on a Google Earth map. Like a periscope dropped into an unsuspecting fish tank, the display zooms in on one transmission pole and pans around from 200 ft above grade, showing roads, houses, trees and other landmarks. Discussion centers on the stage of progress on that pole and the landowner’s concern about its position obstructing his view. “That’s been a big issue throughout the project,” says Williams. The discussion over, the display changes in an instant to a bird’s-eye view embracing five pole sites on almost one mile of right-of-way. The focus of attention moves on.
The meeting keeps track of work done, issues addressed and promises kept. The schedule-driven project actually is three projects, and project managers for overhead line, underground cable and substations report to Williams. Started in April 2006, work now is 22% complete. “We’ll be completing 4% to 5% per month from here on out,” says Williams.
Thoams F. Armistead/ENR
Williams (left) and Bartosewicz make a rare joint visit to a project tower site.
The project will be at peak work force of 650 to 700 from August 2007 to August 2008, says Anne Bartosewicz, project director for Berlin, Conn.-based NU. She and Williams are coordinating their schedules today, but usually work separately. She is his point of contact with NU, and says, “It’s my job to make Brett successful.” He runs the construction, freeing her to liaison with NU.
Williams visits the line once or twice a week. Because the line is so long and the terrain so rough, it can take three to four hours just to get to a point that needs his attention. That is one of the biggest challenges. “It’s so darn long,” he says.
Today, Williams turns off the pavement in Woodbridge, passes through a farm gate and drives his SUV up a steep, muddy, bone-jarring track until the road is lost behind trees. He pulls up to a crew drilling a foundation in muddy shale in a forest clearing. This site is easier than some because it’s on the Regional Water Authority’s land and there are no houses around, he notes. This is a relief in densely populated, politically sophisticated Connecticut.
“The terrain and the people make the project difficult,” he says. The population here mobilized early and well to fight the project, and landowners get vocal when construction infringes on their peace and privacy. “People don’t accept the project like they do in the Midwest,” Williams says.
But he’s in Connecticut for the long haul. He’s hoping the program office could evolve into a Burns & McDonnell regional office. “The best way to stay in Connecticut is to do a good job,” he says.