Brightwater plant’s opening likely means less work for some

  • By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
  • Sunday, September 25, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

MALTBY — One of the benefits mentioned regarding the construction of the massive Brightwater sewage treatment plant is the employment it provided for the people who did the work.

The five-year, $1.8 b

illion construction process involved 3,000 people at one time or another in a variety of jobs, according to King County.

The plant formally opened with a ceremony and tours Saturday that drew more than 1,300 people by mid-afternoon.

What happens to those jobs — and the millions of dollars in salaries each year — now that the plant is done?

With nearly 20 main contractors working on the job and dozens of subcontractors, it’s hard to get a formal tally of continued jobs and layoffs, temporary or permanent.

Given the cyclical, seasonal nature of construction, it’s likely that some of those workers will move on to other jobs for their companies and others may face a temporary layoff until another project pops up, said Annie Kolb-Nelson, spokeswoman for the King County wastewater division, which financed the plant.

“It’s reasonable to infer that some of those workers ended up on other projects or possibly on other construction jobs and some may have left the area for other work,” she said.

Hoffman Construction of Seattle employed a peak of about 300 people in building the plant’s liquids treatment buildings and doing general site work such as grading and installing utilities, project manager Dave Hoffman said.

The company specializes in public works projects and is working on two other large ones right now, he said: a new molecular engineering building at the University of Washington and a Sound Transit rail station near Husky Stadium.

At Hoffman, most of those who worked on Brightwater are transferring to the other projects, Johnson said. The company also employed a lot of subcontractors on the job and it’s hard to tell what will happen to all of those employees, he said.

“It depends on the craft or the trade or the discipline you’re working in. Construction is a transitory business,” Johnson said.

“Some of them I’m sure go to other jobs just like our guys. Others may get laid off and wait for the next job to begin.”

Construction management for Brightwater was handled by CDM of Seattle.

The company, which specializes in water, wastewater, environmental and transportation projects, hired several people for the Brightwater job, vice president Janelle Rogers said.

It had 24 people working on the project altogether, and a few had to be laid off afterward, she said.

“Now we are pursuing other work and hoping we can keep those people employed,” Rogers said. “The others we may pick back up” on a temporary basis, she said.

Work on the 13-mile tunnel that will move wastewater from the Maltby plant to Puget Sound still is not finished and is expected to continue for another year. Until then, treated sewage from Brightwater will be sent to plants in Seattle and Renton.

The joint-venture firm of Vinci, Parsons, Frontier-Kemper, based in Kenmore, is finishing work to line the tunnel.

The up-and-down nature of construction has been exemplified in Snohomish County’s economy, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman,a regional labor economist serving the county for the state Employment Security Department.

The construction industry experienced a faster buildup of employment than other sectors before the recession hit in 2008, and declined more quickly afterward, she said.

While Snohomish County’s total unemployment level rose by 6 percent from 2007 to 2010, unemployment in the construction industry rose 13 percent, she said.

“Construction tends to be one of the first industries to suffer employment losses during times of recession,” she said. “It also tends to be somewhat late in the recovery process. This is due to its dependence on contracts. When the construction industry recovers, however, it tends to do so quickly.”

The bottom line economically for Brightwater, Kolb-Nelson said, is its effect during the five years it was being built.

“It’s important to remember that the $88 million in average annual payroll had a really important economic impact while that work was under way,” she said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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