Editor Greg Ettling discusses industry happenings in April's “For Openers” column.

2006 Water Protector Awards

U.S. Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) and U.S. Representative Tom Latham (R-Iowa) have received 2006 Ground Water Protector Awards from the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).

Hopefully, this is a means to better things to come, and not simply an end that only begets photo ops, sound bites and resume padding (insert your own cheap political joke here - plenty to choose from).

The Ground Water Protector Award recognizes people in government, industry and the private sector for their public service in conjunction with ground water conservation, protection and use.

Sen. Domenici, who serves as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is being recognized for his leadership in encouraging the nation to assess its water supply resources by quantifying current water demands and forecasting future water demands, and developing solutions to meet those demands.

“We applaud Senator Domenici's leadership in assessing our water resources and identifying solutions to water needs,” says John Christiansen, NGWA's Government Affairs Committee chairperson. “This is a public health, quality of life and economic issue of huge proportions. Senator Domenici is helping to focus national attention on water at a crucial time.”

Rep. Latham is being recognized for his key support of funding for a federal household water well system-financing program. “For many low-income families who depend on a household water well, this financing program truly will be a lifeline. We are very grateful to Representative Latham for his support and compassion toward those individuals,” Christiansen says.

The federal program provides low-interest loans to low- to moderate-income persons for the installation or improvement of household water wells. Rep. Latham, who represents Iowa's 4th Congressional District, supported the well financing program on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Here's hoping these two gentlemen stay true to the spirit of the award and fortify their commitment to this important issue, because they will, indeed, face opposition based solely on their political affiliation.

Drilling Company Goes to Auction

On May 10, 2006, A & W Drilling Co. and its related companies will be sold at public auction by Salvadore Auctions & Appraisals Inc. A & W Drilling, with locations in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Rhode Island, has a long history in the region dating back to the early 1940s. The company expanded and bought up many other well drilling and water companies including Flemming Pump, Baker Well Drilling, B.C. Well Drilling, Johnson Well Drilling, Quality Pump, McKenna Well and Jenson Well Drilling. “A & W Drilling's fleet of late model, well maintained drill rigs will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The entire company, including all company names, telephone numbers, engineering records, customer lists and all assets including drill bits, many of which are brand new, pumps, fleet of support vehicles and everything and anything will be sold,” says auctioneer Michael Salvadore Jr. The company-owned real estate in Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island will also be sold at auction the same day. Salvadore provides bidders the capability to bid on site or on-line if they choose. Interested bidders can visit the auction Web site at www.siaai.com (link below) for information on the auction, or contact the auctioneer at 401-941-7451.

Trenchless Demo Day

The Northeast Trenchless Association (NTA) is hosting an admission-free Demo Day Wednesday, May 10, in Topsfield, Mass. Its focus is to show contractors, engineers and road agents live directional drilling demonstrations. Demo Day will include displays of rigs typically used on a job site, and will give participants a visual of what a bore site looks like and what each piece of equipment can achieve. Educational sessions include: “What is Directional Drilling and How Do I Apply It,” presented by NTA; “Slurry Applications,” presented by Baroid; “Walk-over Locators,” presented by Vermeer Northeast; “Pipe & Electro Fusion,” presented by Vari-Tech; “Wireline Systems,” presented by Directional Technology; and “HDPE Products,” presented by E.J. Prescott. Demo Day takes place rain or shine. For additional information, telephone 603-428-6333 or visit www.northeasttrenchless.com (link below).

Report: Construction Industry Leads Way in Employment Gains

“Construction again led the most recent employment report (February) with a gain of 41,000 jobs, one-fifth of all private-sector jobs added during the month,” says Ken Simonson, chief economist for The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Simonson was commenting on seasonally adjusted jobs figures released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). “This is just the latest in a long string of employment gains. Since February 2005, construction employment has risen by 346,000, or 4.7 percent, triple the overall growth rate for non-farm payroll jobs.

“As in other recent months, employment growth was well distributed across construction industry segments and regions,” Simonson observes. “All construction job categories showed gains for the month and the 12-month period. In particular, building construction employment has not dropped, despite reports of slower housing starts and sales. Over the past 12 months, employment has increased by 3.9 percent in residential building construction and 7.6 percent in residential specialty contractors, 3.2 percent in nonresidential building and 2.2 percent in nonresidential specialty contractors, and 7.2 percent in heavy and civil engineering construction.

“As for states,” Simonson notes, “data released yesterday by BLS show that from January 2005 to January 2006, construction employment rose in 46 states, remained virtually unchanged in Vermont, and fell in only three states (Connecticut, Louisiana and Michigan) and the District of Columbia. The biggest 12-month percentage gains were in states as dispersed as Idaho (17 percent), Nevada (16 percent), Hawaii and Mississippi (14 percent each).

“The outlook for nonresidential construction is very positive for the remainder of 2006,” Simonson says. “Growth appears likely for construction of factories, hospitals and other health care facilities, some retail categories, freight transportation and distribution, refineries and alternative energy facilities, and most public construction categories.

“Single- and multi-family residential construction will taper off,” he adds. “But for now, there is a backlog of paid-for but unbuilt houses that will keep single-family construction going. The decline in multi-family construction is likely to be tempered by a shift from condos to rental units.

“Despite the large rise in construction employment, wages have risen very moderately,” Simonson notes. “The seasonally adjusted average wage of hourly construction employees in February was $19.70, up just 2.2 percent from February 2005. In contrast, average wages for all private sector non-supervisory or production workers rose 3.5 percent.

“Materials costs remain a major concern for the industry,” Simonson concludes. “The signing by the United States and Mexico of an agreement to end a 16-year anti-dumping duty on Mexican cement should lessen shortages of cement that plagued 32 states last year, but strong demand will continue to push up cement prices at double-digit rates. Petroleum- and natural gas-based inputs such as diesel fuel, asphalt and construction plastics also are much more expensive than a year ago, as are gypsum and copper products. Materials used for nonresidential construction are likely to repeat the 8 percent to 14 percent price increases experienced in 2005, depending on construction type, with highway construction materials (asphalt, concrete, diesel fuel) again going up the most.”