State Senate considering public works funding bill

February 20th, 2014 by Jerry

The Public Works Assistance Account (PWAA) is a mechanism to provide low interest loans to local governments to help them build major infrastructure projects that they would not otherwise be able to afford.

Between 1985 and 2013, the PWAA was used to make loans totaling $2.84 billion for approximately 1,975 local government public works projects. These include the acquisition, construction, repair, replacement or improvement of bridges, streets and roads; water systems; storm and sanitary sewage systems; and solid waste facilities, including recycling.

However, last year the Legislature redirected the Public Works Assistance Account’s funding streams away from capital projects and into the general budget, until 2019.  The unintended consequences of this action are now becoming clear:  Several local infrastructure construction projects have been put on hold because market interest rates for loans for these projects have added millions of dollars to the costs, making them unaffordable for many local governments.

The State House of Representatives recently passed a bill, SHB 2244, which would restore funding to the PWAA in 2015.  This bill passed the House with a strong bipartisan vote of 87-11. By making local infrastructure construction projects feasible, the bill helps spur private economic development which, in turn, boosts state funding for education and other needs.  In addition, this bill will create jobs. Employment in the construction industry in Washington State grew by only 0.2% in 2013, one of the slowest rates in the nation.  This bill will help the industry in its recovery.

Now, attention turns to the Senate.  With the legislative session set to conclude March 13, there isn’t much time for the Senate to act. Everyone is encouraged to contact their State Senators and urge them to support SHB 2244.

Seattle pins the tail on the Donkeys in fundraiser

February 5th, 2014 by Ben
Donkeys_menMcKinstry President Doug Moore, left, and CEO Dean Allen try out orange and blue.

Another competition was held between Seattle and Denver; this one for bragging rights between McKinstry offices.

The offices challenged each other to see who could raise the most money for charity in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. Seattle came out on top — again — by raising $8,440 to Denver’s $3,215 in the “Cheers for Charity” event.

Donkeys_flag  The Bronco flag flew half-mast for a day at McKinstry’s Seattle office.

The real winners were the organizations receiving the money, including 826 Seattle, Washington Business Week and Safe Crossings.

But the competition also came with a few strings attached: Each contribution milestone reached by either office triggered a requirement for the other office to meet.

Denver beat the $2,000 threshold, which meant the Seattle execs had to wear Donkey, I mean Bronco, jerseys at work for a day and fly the Donkey, I mean Bronco, flag on the corporate flagpole for a day.

Fortunately, there were no stipulations on how the flag was to be flown (see picture).

In Denver, the operations manager had to wear a Seahawks jersey and put Seahawks magnets on his truck until opening day of next football season. They also had to fly the 12th Man flag over their office.


Blind Acceptance of Evidence of Insurance is Asking for Trouble

February 3rd, 2014 by Todd

Last year, I wrote an article published in Engineering News Record entitled “Understanding Insurance: A ‘Must” for Every Construction Professional.” In that article, I discussed how my thinking about construction insurance issues has been forced to evolve from my days in the 1980s as a construction project engineer and project manager, up to an including my role today advising clients on construction issues. My theme was that contractor’s insurance is no longer a “one size fits all” item, and that construction professionals, in addition to understanding labor, materials, equipment and scheduling, have to now be passably fluent in insurance, too.

Illustrative of my point is Delean’s Tile & Marble v. American States Insurance, approved for publication last week by Division I of the Washington Supreme Court. In that case, a general contractor was engaged to perform repairs on a condo project after the original developer settled with the Homeowner’s Association over claims for defects in the original construction. The general, in turn, hired a subcontractor to perform some of the repair work, which it apparently did not do well. When the subcontractor refused to fix its allegedly flawed work, the general hired a replacement subcontractor and made a claim against the original sub under the terms of their subcontract that required the sub to indemnify the general. The dispute resulted in a lawsuit.

The insurer provided a defense to the subcontractor, and represented the sub throughout the proceedings, up to and including the time that the sub settled with the general for something north of $150,000. However, the insurer refused to pay the settlement amount, and began a declaratory action, seeking a ruling from the court that no coverage for the settlement amount was available, even though the general was an “additional insured” under the requirements of the subcontract.

The general also filed a claim with the sub’s comprehensive general liability insurance carrier, asserting that it has been named an “additional insured” under that policy pursuant to the requirements of the subcontract. Obviously, if unable to obtain indemnity for its damages from the original subcontractor, the general contractor was expecting the insurer to pick up the tab for the defects in the sub’s work. However, the insurer denied the claim, asserting that the multifamily exclusion in the sub’s policy precluded coverage.

The general had the defective work repaired at a total cost (including attorney’s fees) of more than $170,000, and sued the sub. Eventually, the general obtained a judgment against the sub (presumably under the indemnity provision of the subcontract) in that action. The sub was defended by its insurer under a reservation of rights in that action.

However, before the judgment was entered against the sub, the insurer began a suit of its own—a declaratory action asking the court to determine that there was no insurance coverage under its policy from which the general (or the homeowners) could recover. Each party filed a motion for summary judgment in the declaratory action, and the court ruled that the multi-family exclusion barred a recovery from the insurer for the damages associated with the sub’s work, and that the general was entitled to no defense against the homeowner’s actions against it., And, all because of the multi-family exclusion.

On appeal the Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the general’s attempts to parse the definitions in the policy upon which the insurer relied, repeatedly holding that those attempts “lacked merit.” Marching through the general’s assertions one by one, the Court of Appeals provided either definitions from the policy itself or common usage of the terms on which the general (unsuccessfully) relied to attempt to avoid the multi-family exclusion.

Gone are the days when receiving the Accord form “evidence of insurance” was enough to check off that requirement from a subcontractor. The enormous condominium litigation industry that has evolved over the past 15 or so years has prompted nearly every CGL carrier to exclude multi-family construction from its contractor policies. In fact, these exclusions are what has given rise to the “wrap up” and “Owner Controlled Insurance Plans” (OCIP) we see on nearly every condo project built over the last several years.

We now all expect that original condo or apartment construction will have some version of an OCIP these days. What’s interesting about Delean’s, however, is that it is not about the original construction of a condo, it’s about the second-tier repair construction to a condo. Yet, the same lessons with regard to the availability of multi-family insurance apply. Moreover, it’s highly possible that whichever sub repaired the Delean’s sub’s bad work had a similar exclusion in its policy, and the specter exists that the pattern of no coverage for defects might just continue.

Insurance literacy then involves more than just getting an Accord form in the mail, seeing that your company has been named as an “additional insured,” and filing that piece of paper. Literacy today requires not only an understanding that the insurance exists, but of what it consists, and perhaps more importantly, what is excluded from it. General contractors who work on any aspect of multi-family projects, including in particular the repairs being made after the first round of litigation, would do well to include a requirement in the insurance portion of their subcontracts that the sub must provide insurance for the type of project on which it’s working, either by providing a policy with no multi-family exclusion, or by paying for a rider to the base policy that covers all aspects of the project in question.

Watch Super Bowl stadium get built in 50 seconds

January 24th, 2014 by Ben

With the big game between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Donkeys about a week away, EarthCam is sharing a time-lapse video of MetLife Stadium under construction. The clip compresses about 2½ years of construction into 50 seconds.

The $1.6 billion stadium was filmed from August 2007 to March 2010.

Go Hawks!

L&I doing the home show circuit

January 24th, 2014 by Ben

The Department of Labor & Industries will have a booth at 18 home shows this winter/spring throughout the state to inform homeowners about hiring the right construction contractors.

L&I says home show attendees in search of a contractor should arrive with a plan that includes:

• Know what you want. Whether planning to update your bathroom or build a fence, write a list of the features you must have versus the features you’d like to have. Bring magazine pictures of desired features.
• Talk to a variety of vendors and contractors. Bring a list of questions about your project and ask contractors about their experience.
• Confirm prospective contractors are registered with the state at Registered contractors must have a business license and a current certificate of liability insurance and a bond on file with L&I, providing some recourse if the project goes bad. Just because contractors have a booth doesn’t mean they’re registered.

The first event, the Tacoma Home & Garden Show, is running until Sunday inside the Tacoma Dome. Admission is $12.

Ritchie Bros. auctioning die-cast models for charity

December 18th, 2013 by Ben

Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers on Thursday will sell two dozen die-cast models of construction equipment at its yard in Chehalis, giving the proceeds to Toys for Tots and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Southwest Washington.

The 1:50- and 1:32-scale models are of rock trucks, dump trucks, truck tractors, bulldozers and other heavy equipment under the brands Caterpillar, Kenworth, John Deere, Freightliner, New Holland, Volvo and Komatsu.

“The items that will be sold as part of the charity auction have been generously donated by our customers from across the Pacific Northwest, and we believe we will receive bids on these items from far and wide, quite possibly from outside our region,” said Ritchie regional sales manager Brad Maas in a release. “This truly is a community effort and our customers are always very generous. We look forward to being able to bring some families in need a little more holiday cheer this season.”

The models will be auctioned along with more than 1,100 pieces of full-size heavy equipment. The charity part of the auction will include an ax signed by Mike Phil from the History Channel’s Ax Men.

Bids can be made in person at the Chehalis auction site, online at and by proxy. Charity items (lot numbers 5474T to 5495T) will begin closing at 12:30 p.m. PST in 30-second intervals and will be part of a timed auction, which takes place over several days with online bids prior to the live auction.

UPDATE: A Ritchie spokesman says the auction raised $2,500 and Ritchie kicked in $3,500 for a total of $6,000 that was split between Toys for Tots and Big Brothers. Mike’s ax fetched $375, the highest of any of the charity items.
Good work Ritchie and those who donated!

Low carbon fuel standard could negatively affect construction

December 10th, 2013 by Jerry

Washington State is considering the implementation of a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). While some of the effects of such a policy on the construction industry are unknown because it has yet to be tried anywhere, the things that are known about the policy are not good.

The push for a low-carbon fuel standard is coming from two directions: The Governor’s Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup (CLEW) will soon be making its recommendations for greenhouse gas-fighting policies the state could adopt, and the LCFS is one getting serious consideration. Plus, Governor Inslee signed a pact with other western states and British Columbia that promises to enact greenhouse gas policies regionally, including a LCFS. Neither of these actions actually creates new policies; they are more suggestions of what the state could do regarding greenhouse gases. In any event, these are strong indications of upcoming legislative battles.

The draft CLEW report talks about implementing a LCFS of a 10% reduction in the carbon intensity of the fuel mix over a 10 year time period in the State of Washington. It doesn’t prescribe what the fuel mix will be; just that it should have lower carbon intensity.

Keep in mind that for years refineries have been making fuel with 10% ethanol for many markets. But, even a 10% ethanol mix reduces the fuel’s carbon intensity by only 1%. Adding even more ethanol (and it would take a lot more!) has been shown to dissolve seals and gaskets in engines. Fuels with something else – such as agricultural waste products – has never been developed in the mixes needed to reach the 10% carbon intensity reduction.

So without a real-world test, it’s hard to say what the affect would be of a not-yet-developed fuel mixture on construction equipment and vehicles. But as AGC’s Oregon-Columbia Chapter pointed out in battling a similar proposal in Oregon, converting to higher biofuel content fuels would affect truck engine warranties. Currently, there are percentage limits on blended fuels, which when exceeded will void many manufacturers’ warranties. It is very likely that construction equipment and vehicles would have to at least be retrofitted to accommodate blended fuels, as was the case for recent clean air rules and their impact on older diesel-powered equipment.

Other concerns raised about LCFS proposals include:

  • Limited supply of biofuels in the US would likely trigger fuel shortages and spikes in fuel production costs, and industry analysts forecast that fuel costs could go up by as much as $1-$1.50 per gallon as a result.
  • Retro-fitting equipment to handle these biofuel blends is incredibly expensive. The majority of contractors would be faced with making changes they cannot afford, while only some contractors are able to make the necessary investments in biofuels/energy production technologies, onsite fueling depots, total fleet conversions and all of the costs associated with these capabilities.
  • California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program was ruled unconstitutional in a United States District Court based on the Interstate Commerce Clause.  The court battle continues.
  • This kind of program is not feasible at the state level- these policies should be a matter of discussion at the Federal level. In fact, there are already federal mandates in place for advanced biofuels technology through the Federal Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program.

Don’t spend Black Friday shopping for plumbers

November 26th, 2013 by Ben

One of the busiest days for plumbers is the day after Thanksgiving.

What brings the plumbers out? All that animal fat, cooking grease and poultry skin that ends up down the drain or in the garbage disposal. Those extra helpings of scraps and grease clog pipes and extra house guests put additional pressure on the plumbing system.

If it’s too late to heed that warning, the state Department of Labor & Industries is telling consumers to take their time when choosing a plumber.

L&I says state law requires plumbers to be certified for jobs inside buildings. Plumbers also must work for a company that’s registered as a general contractor or a specialty plumbing contractor. Registration ensures the contractor is bonded and insured if something goes wrong.

Here are some more tips from L&I:
•    Get three bids for the job.
•    Before calling plumbing companies, check whether they’re registered contractors at
•    Ask each company for the name of the plumber who will do the work. See if the plumber is certified at Plumbing certification isn’t required for workers pumping out septic systems.
•    Ask to see a certification card when the plumber arrives.
•    If it’s a trainee, the worker must have an active trainee card and must be supervised by a certified plumber at the jobsite.

L&I recommends people find a good plumber before an emergency, then keep the contact information handy.

DJC profiles the Apple Cup of construction

November 21st, 2013 by Ben


Just in time for the Apple Cup football game, the DJC has put together a special section profiling construction projects at the UW and WSU.

Included is a list of the top 10 projects at each school. Who gets bragging rights? If you go by dollar volume, the nod goes to the Huskies, with just over $900 million. That’s more than twice the value of WSU’s top 10.

UW also has the top project: the second phase $186.3 million expansion of the UW Medical Center. WSU’s top project is the $96 million Veterinary and Biomedical Research Building. Of course, WSU’s list of projects includes a $23 million Wine Science Center stocked with 3,500 bottles of wine.

For those wanting to watch football, the Apple Cup will be held Nov. 29 at Husky Stadium – another new project!

Crank out green kilowatts with wind turbines

November 5th, 2013 by Ben

The following post is by Liz Nelson :

When it comes to renewable energy sources, the first two that are predominately on the minds of many is the use of solar panels and wind turbines. For wind turbines, the principle is the same that you see in every gasoline guzzling car. Each of those vehicles are using an alternator to turn torque power into electric current to charge the battery. The wind turbine is no different. It is using the wind to turn the generator to produce large amounts of electricity in the same fashion as the automobile – minus the gas guzzling engine.

Depending on the area you live in, the wind may be constantly blowing. As there may be no resistance to hold the wind back, it is free to blow. Home-based wind turbines don’t have to stand at 200-feet in order to harness some of the wind that is blowing. As long as there is a deep cycle battery connected, any amount of wind could help reduce your energy expenses and could possibly remove your dependence from the grid. What are some of the features that are tied in to a wind turbine for residential and business locales?

1. Sizes - Various sizes are available for wind turbines, so you don’t have to assume it’s going to stand 200-feet tall with blades longer than your house. In fact, there are smaller units that can produce up to three kilowatts of energy from wind speeds of approximately 25 miles per hour that can fit in your garage next to your car. Devices like the Aleko WG3KW has a security feature that will throttle itself back at speeds of 40 mph in order to prevent damage from overcharge or burning the motor out.

2. Inexpensive - Compared to other renewable energy developments, wind power can be less expensive to produce similar results. For less than $2,000, you can assemble the small Aleko unit featured above and cover a large portion of your energy needs. Typically, a large family home could utilize 5,000 to 7,000 kilowatts of power requiring a few of these devices. However, the cost for implementing solar could be four to five times that amount if you installed it yourself.

3. Zero Emissions – The only source required by a wind turbine to generate power is wind. As there are no consumable fuels going into power generation, there are no emissions. The generator is simply powered by the wind spinning the blades of the unit. Although skeptics may point out that there are emissions being created by the vehicles used to ship the items, the point is moot. Unlike coal and oil based power plants, there are no other fuels being consumed to create energy. Tens of thousands of tons of coal are shipped annually to various power plants.

4. Combined Efforts - If you discover that a single unit isn’t supplying the power you need, additional units can be erected and tied into your power. This allows you to purchase turbines as you need them and not have to worry about coming up with a lot of money in order to be energy efficient.

Renewable energy sources are being developed and utilized all over the globe. What was once thought as a passing fancy has turned into a quest for continued efficiency. Whether you are a household of five or need to supply power to your business, wind turbines can offer an affordable solution to help reduce your bills and help conserve energy from the grid for other uses.

Liz Nelson of is a freelance writer and blogger from Houston. She can be reached at