The most recent Port committee meeting, conducted on Thursday, October 14, was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the subject matter, which was thoughtful and in-depth. Second, the large crowd attending the discussion. More on that latter point later, here was the agenda:
So, without further ado, here’s a summary of our discourse.
Navigability for TOTE:
Regular readers may recall that marine officials from Totem Ocean Trailer Express raised concerns that they could not safely navigate to their “vacation home” (temporary berth) at the North Extension and suggested additional dredging, which raised concerns from Army Corps of Engineers as changes to dredging plans are difficult to effect. (Remember the North Extension, so-called because it lies north of the existing dock, is the first major phase of the project and allows both TOTE and Horizon to shift their operations while other phases proceed.) In the intervening weeks an alternative plan developed wherein TOTE’s berth would be situated further south, thus affording them safer navigation and increasing the buffer space between their vessels and others operating in the area. To achieve this the North Extension would extend an additional 650′ south, which entails partial demolition of the existing dock. I know, that sounds complicated, so let’s step it out:
All this is pending a Corps simulation of silting patterns to ensure the problems that forced TOTE off the dock this spring don’t recur in this new plan. The TOTE representative at the meeting was in far better spirits than at some of our previous discussions so I’m cautiously optimistic this concern is resolved. We’ll get a report from the Corps when their simulation is complete.
Given all the rumors floating around about what work went well, what went wrong and who’s ticked off at whom, this was a big issue even if the results were classified as preliminary. According to project engineers, more than 7,700 steel sheets have been installed to date. Inspections carried out during the summer found numerous instances of some sort of bulkhead (dock face) damage in portions of the project, while very few in others. The overall number of instances seemed high to some of my colleagues, one of whom asked if this was considered average, above- or below-average on a project of this type?
Hard to say, came the answer. Because the data is preliminary after further analysis some instances of damage may be considered de minimus and not require additional work. Further, because this is a highly scrutinized project, the quality assurance & quality control program is quite vigorous. That prompted a question from me – is the QA/QC program aggressive enough that damages that might go unnoticed in another project are coming to light in this one? Basically yes, came the reply.
Another interesting facet of the discussion involved the tail walls, which is the sheet piling that runs perpendicular to the bulkhead (dock face) back into the filled area, thus strengthening the overall structure. It seems that testing of those sections involves physically removing portions of those walls, as many as a third of all walls, by lifting them out of the ground. (The whole wall isn’t removed, just a few selected portions. If those portions pass muster, great, if not, pull more sections. Similarly if most walls are okay, move on, if problems show up, test more walls.)
This was the part where the size of the crowd was interesting. I counted at least three attorneys in the room, one of whom represents the contractor whose work was inspected. There were even more engineers, some affiliated with the project, some not, and various others who might or might not be involved in settling who pays for what related to last year’s work. Port officials made two points on that front:
The population at the committee table was also bolstered by the presence of three members of the Geotechnical Advisory Commission, a municipal board that advises us on matters like this. While they’d asked a few questions during other discussions, this portion engendered their most active engagement.
We heard a presentation from PND, the engineering firm with patented open-cell sheet pile technology that offered both an overview how it worked and details of its use in this project. Here’s a few highlights:
That last point encountered quite a bit of discussion as GAC members are bothered that much of the independent review, conducted by a company called Terracon, is funded by ICRC, the project management team overseeing the port expansion. We also learned that the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center conducted a rigorous review, though no one was aware of a published report. (Surprise! We asked that it be determined if one was available and, if so, that it be distributed.)
(Editor’s note: I learned after the meeting that a member(s) of the GAC might be involved in what increasingly looks like a claims process over last year’s work. I suggested to the GAC chair that any member involved in such a process should sit in the audience, rather than at the committee table.)
Not much new on this front. The port apparently received $13 million as a TIGER 2 grant, which is new money for the project, and officials hinted that the 2011 state capital budget could have additional funds but didn’t offer any specifics (the governor, whomever he happens to be, releases his proposed budget in December).
There’s still much to discuss like any information we can obtain from ERDC, effects of construction restrictions caused by the ESA listing of beluga whales, getting to know the folks at MARAD (the federal project sponsor) better and other issues that come to the fore. I’ll keep you in the loop!
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