The company that will undertake Fort Wayne's largest infrastructure project comes armed with skilled workers, extensive experience and comprehensive safety standards, officials say.
The 5-mile, $187.7 million tunnel project, designed to ease the burden on the city's combined sewer system during wet weather events, is scheduled for completion in 2021. Once done, the city will be in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations concerning the water quality of Fort Wayne's rivers.
“The importance is, with the Salini Impregilo Group, we have the basis of this massive experience worldwide and the strength of the company that we can resource into when it comes to very challenging projects we have done all over the world,” said Manfred Lechner, the firm's project manager.
Together, Salini Impregilo and S.A. Healy form the joint venture that will soon bore more than 200 feet into the bedrock below Fort Wayne to create the Three Rivers Protection and Overflow Reduction Tunnel. The project is the result of a consent decree with the Department of Justice and the EPA. That agreement requires Fort Wayne reduce its average annual combined sewer overflows into city rivers from 76 to four.
The endeavor is being funded through rates paid by City Utilities customers. The rate increases meant to pay for the tunnel were previously approved by the Fort Wayne City Council.
The Salini Impregilo group has performed work in more than 50 countries.
“At the moment, we're just finishing, I think, the largest single project in the world, which was one of the two big dams in Ethiopia,” said Claudio Cimiotti, senior tunnel engineer with Salini Impregilo. “And we just completed the Panama Canal, that was one of the biggest projects in the world for a long time. That employed at the peak 7,000 to 8,000 labor in the area, plus all the other engineers and staff.”
The company has worked in South America for more than 50 years, Cimiotti said, adding that he has worked in Ecuador and Venezuela. One of its major U.S. projects is a freshwater intake tunnel at Lake Mead in Nevada. Salini Impregilo is also working on another combined sewer overflow tunnel in Cleveland, which started mining last week, Cimiotti said.
City Utilities officials engaged in a prequalification process, which attracted about a dozen contractors. Over time, a short list was developed of about five or six companies. It says a lot about the utility's process and emphasis on quality that Salini Impregilo chose to bid on the project, said Matthew Wirtz, deputy director of City Utilities.
With its domestic ties, Salini Impregilo can tap into local labor and subcontractors to handle portions of the project that don't have to be handled by skilled workers employed by Salini Impregilo. The chief engineer and safety manager, Lechner said, are U.S. citizens. The company has also been in contact with local labor and operators unions, Lechner said, and are in the process of finalizing agreements. Salini Impregilo/S.A. Healy is a union company, Lechner added.
“We try to subcontract a fair bit of work, for different reasons,” Lechner said. “No. 1, to involve the local community, to take local knowledge and resources that already exists and use them on our project because most of the time these companies are already familiar with the surroundings, they're familiar with the conditions with the city and they're ready.”
Some examples of work in which Salini Impregilo/S.A. Healy plans to involve local labor includes site establishment and development, as well as near-surface utility and structural work. The firm is also in the process of hiring local staff for administrative, management and safety-related positions, Lechner said.
When Salini Impregilo and S.A. Healy talk about safety, it's more than lip service, Lechner said. The goal, he said, is not only to keep the company's staff and personnel safe, but also to keep the affected community safe as well. It's mandated by the company's core values, Lechner said.
At the same time, the safety is also the most economic way to operate, Lechner added.
“If you think about it in the longer term … if you don't do it, you have issues with your performance, you have stoppages, you have to revisit things, you have to rework things, you have to go back and your ratings are changing which impacts you on other jobs,” Lechner said. “It's not just do it because somebody tells you to do it, do it because we want to do it. We want to keep the people safe, but we also want to be economic in what we're doing.”
In the interest of safety, each workday begins with a 15-minute safety toolbox talk, Cimiotti said, which discusses the day's project and highlights the challenges crews will face.
“There is nothing like repeating things, because people tend to forget. When you have to do something for many days in a row, at the end you can become complacent,” Cimiotti said. “So, if every day instead, for a brief period you have your safety meeting where you go over the challenges of the day, what you have to do, it's like a reminder. So, every day, they get it and at the end it will become automatic. You get prepared because you train and you can overcome challenges.”
Those daily meetings are interactive, Lechner said, and everyone working is encouraged to speak up to offer solutions.
“It's about do you have anything you want to suggest to us, to management, to supervisors, about safety,” Lechner said.
“Let's talk about it. It's very interactive.”
Formed: 2014, as part of merger between Salini and Impregilo
Highlights: More than 900 miles of underground infrastructure projects in more than 50 countries. Project locations include Asia, the United States, Central America, South America, Africa, Australia, India and the Middle East.
Headquarters: Las Vegas
Founded: 1923; part of Salini Impregilo Group since 1982
Highlights: More than 100 miles of tunneling since 1923.