BEST UTILITY PROJECT: James A. Loughlin Wastewater Treatment Plant


Contractor: Crowder Construction Company, Apex

The James A. Loughlin Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrade and Expansion was a project of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority in Wilmington. Among the largest construction endeavors in New Hanover County history, it doubled capacity of the existing 40-year-old plant, which now handles 16 million gallons daily.

Contractor Crowder Construction Company, servicing the project from its Apex office, also upgraded the chlorination and electrical systems.

The construction portion of the 3.5-year project was about $68 million.

“It was a logistically convoluted project,” says engineer Tony Boahn, a vice president at the headquarters office of McKim & Creed in Wilmington.

“We did formalize partnering with Crowder and the city,” Boahn says. “We recognized it was an alive and dynamic process. We started with a plan but we certainly made changes along the way.

“We developed a plant operations plan whereby one structure would be built and placed online prior to taking another structure off line,” he says. Besides structures themselves, this involved “piping, controls, the entire facility.”

Integrating the old with the new was certainly a challenge, says Carlos Norris, a senior vice president with Crowder.

“These wastewater facilities, they have to stay on line,” Norris says. “If you shut down a wastewater plant, it’s environmentally unsound. Also, it affects industry and communities and people flushing commodes. They could not achieve what they needed as a community until this thing was up and running.”

There were times when the Crowder crew worked nights to take advantage of low flow periods, says marketing manager Linnell Stanhope. “We had lights going and crews working around the clock,” she says.

The CAGC points out that the plant won an award for excellent performance meeting pollution discharge limits while Crowder was in the middle of heavy construction and bypass pumping.

“We also had to put in a whole new power scheme,” Stanhope says, “so it was a very complex electrical project. At Crowder, we self-perform our electrical instrumentation. We ended up with no items on the electrical punch list.”

During the marathon job, the Crowder team’s safety accomplishments were recognized by Cherrie Berry, NC labor commissioner, at an on-site luncheon.

“We developed a unique relationship with OSHA,” says Stanhope. “We formed a partnership where they were welcome to come on site any time. We took advantage of OSHA’s training trailer with our own people as well as our subs and engineering staff and operational staff.”

The entire project racked up 800,000 hours without an accident and Crowder itself accounted for 520,000 of those, she adds.

Crowder also was conscientious about getting the community involved. Norris speaks of making sure dollars got reinvested in the region’s economy.

“Hiring locally was important, and it met our needs as well,” Norris says. “I would say 75 percent of the workforce on the overall project came from the local community. We had maybe 200 on the site at the peak.”

Another example of community involvement was Crowder’s help with installation of a 5,000-pound Fallen Soldier Memorial on the Cape Fear River to honor area soldiers killed in Iraq.

“We said, ‘Well, shoot, we’ve got a crane, we’ve got people,’” Stanhope remembers. Crowder and subs set up the monument in the course of one Saturday and Sunday.

The Loughlin project finished on time and $6 million below budget, the CAGC says.

“The end result is the plant is producing an effluent quality that’s exceeding its permit limit,” says Boahn. “It’s working.”

Norris likes the satisfied feeling that comes from a job well-done. “We’ll get a lot of mileage out of that long-term,” he concludes.