DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A summit at the Neil Blaisdell Exhibition Hall brought city and county officials and the private sector together to network and discuss a master plan to upgrade the waste-water system. Jay Hanai, left, assistant chief of the Wastewater Division for the city, and Allan Lock, vice president of Hawaiian Dredging, shared a lighthearted moment yesterday as they looked at a map of sewer projects to be put out to bid or awarded this year and next. CLICK FOR LARGE
City sewer projects face construction competition
A construction labor shortage.
An insufficient supply of material for paving roads.
A future rail transit project.
Those are among the factors that could slow the completion of $1.5 billion in city sewer projects in the next few years, industry experts and city officials say.
Concerns over pressing sewer system upgrades led the city to call a hard-hat summit yesterday, gathering general contractors, engineers, planners, union officials and other industry representatives.
The big question: how to get it all done on time.
"It's one thing to announce these kinds of opportunities ... but unless you proactively reach out to the building, construction industry and labor, you may get a situation whereby a project is ready to go and there's not sufficient interest," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. "We have the work. They need to gear up."
The mayor and experts said they are confident the building industry will be able to meet the needs of the city, but there would be challenges along the way, including getting the city to manage these projects better by getting permits and reviews done speedier.
"Yes, we have hurdles that we need to overcome in terms of processing paperwork faster, change orders," said Craig Nishimura, deputy director of the Department of Design and Construction. "There are a lot of things that need to be done quicker, better."
Eric Takamura, director of the city Department of Environmental Services, which oversees waste-water projects, said the idea for yesterday's informational meeting at the Blaisdell Center came after the city put out to bid $280 million in sewer projects. The city is under the gun to bring the sewer system into compliance with federal standards.
Takamura said: "See how you guys can network, see how you guys can advise the city how we can do things more efficiently, quicker."
For example, Takamura said, some companies are "stuck" on one city job for years.
"We want to get through all of these hurdles because the waste-water program cannot sit back and wait for construction projects to go on year after year after year," Takamura said.
The tight labor market and the competition among the private sector, state, federal and other city projects for contractors could make it difficult for the waste-water work to get done, particularly in specialty work.
But industry officials said that increased apprenticeships and retraining construction workers to perform different kinds of duties would help.
High school graduates who choose not to go to college or leave the islands could be tapped sooner for construction apprenticeships and jobs, said Darrell Goo, president of the General Contractors Association of Hawaii.
"The ones that do attend college, we expect to get some of them on our staffs as future engineers and design engineers," said Goo, who said an engineering student stayed with his firm after graduation.
Buzz Hong, executive director of the Building Trades Council, said that with the residential building boom starting to slow, workers can be retrained to do other kinds of construction projects.
Another source of competition in the next couple of years could be the city's rail transit project.
"I think we will be stressed somewhat, however, working with the city," said Jon Nishimura, president-elect of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Hawaii, who added that the city needs to better schedule projects.
A shortage of aggregate could also affect construction if there is not enough material on Oahu to repave roads, but industry officials foresee having to ship more material from elsewhere to the island.
SCHEDULED SEWER WORK
The city detailed for construction industry representatives the amount of sewer work scheduled:
» 13 projects currently under way -- $336.9 million.
» 30 projects slated for construction in 2007 and 2008 -- $433.1 million.
» 38 projects scheduled for planning or design in 2007 and 2008 -- $640 million.