Todd Orbus: Navigating a Complex Spillway Reconstruction in California From Pre-Bidding to Early Completion
Replacing flood-ravaged spillways at Oroville Dam in just 18 months over two brief construction seasons required the focus and tenacity of many. At the helm of the final season’s push, Todd Orbus, project director for Kiewit Infrastructure West, guided 700 workers to complete the main and emergency spillways rebuild weeks ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline imposed by the start of Northern California’s rainy season.
“If I ever had to pick somebody to manage a project, I’d want Todd,” says Tony Meyers, project management office chief at the California Dept. of Water Resources. “He’s open to alternatives, honest, follows through and makes sure that any items you might desire get dressed without saying ‘we can’t do that.’ ”
With teamwork as his guiding principal, Orbus kept crews aligned under a “one team, one goal” mantra. Failure to meet the milestone meant that hundreds of thousands downstream would be at risk. “It was hugely important to achieve the safety milestone for the community, for the credibility of our client and for everybody that was working on it,” Orbus says. “It was obvious that the community was pulling for us. It motivated our team to work hard when they were tired and keep pushing to make sure we got done.”
Orbus, a native Californian and veteran of key spillway projects in the area, was lead estimator during the brief 10-day initial bid to get crews mobilized in spring 2017 to repair the catastrophic flood damage. While the first season’s interim fix kept residents safe and led to a newsmaker award for then project director Jeff Petersen, the team was able to use the seasonal break to review lessons learned. The depth of knowledge that Orbus gained early on was instrumental in leading the final push.
“We went back through everything: refined concrete mix designs, equipment selection and formwork, and optimized crew sizes and even supervision,” Orbus says. “Our goal for season two was just to do everything better than we did in season one, from safety and quality to schedule. We were always looking for ways to shave days off. Those days turned into weeks and we were able to finish early.”