President Orders Federally Funded Construction Projects To Plan For Flood Risks From Climate Change

On January 30, 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring all federally funded construction projects to take into account flood risks linked to climate change.  Federal agencies will now be required to account for the impact of possible flooding from rising sea levels resulting from global warming by meeting one of following three requirements:

  • Use the best-available climate science.
  • Build two feet above the 100-year (1 percent annual chance) flood elevation for standard projects and three feet above for critical buildings like hospitals and evacuation centers.
  • Build to the 500-year (0.2 percent annual chance) flood elevation.

The objective of the new policy is to build federal buildings and highways at safe distances away from flood areas that are expected to deteriorate as a result of climate change. “By requiring that Federally funded buildings, roads and other infrastructure are constructed to better withstand the impacts of flooding, the President’s action will support the thousands of communities that have strengthened their local floodplain management codes and standards, and will help ensure Federal projects last as long as intended,” the White House Council on Environmental Quality said in a fact sheet.

Rachel Cleetus, the lead economist and climate policy manager with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the President’s action common sense. Below is Ms. Cleetus’ statement.

“This should be one of the least controversial executive orders the president has ever released. Why would the federal government build or repair buildings in ways that continue to put communities at risk? And why would we waste taxpayer dollars rebuilding in ways that are likely to result in repeated future flooding damages? This executive order is simply common sense. In fact, many communities across the country already recognize this and have issued building design guidelines that call for two feet of freeboard above the 100-year base flood elevation.

“This standard hasn’t been substantially changed in 37 years. Meanwhile, flood losses have increased and will continue to get worse with climate change, which is increasing flooding risks by contributing to higher seas and more severe storm surge along our coasts, and also heavier rains in some parts of the country. At the same time, more development in coastal areas is putting more people and property at risk.

“We’re also now seeing flooding on sunny days. Flooding during high tides—something that rarely occurred in the past—is now common in some places on the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. Tidal flooding is expected grow to the point that sections of coastal cities will flood so often they’ll become unusable in the near future, according to a study the Union of Concerned Scientists released in October. Most of the 52 coastal towns we looked at could see a tripling in annual tidal floods in 15 years and a tenfold increase in 30 years.

“It’s bad policy to rebuild in ways that perpetuate our risk of flooding and to sink taxpayer dollars into risky rebuilding efforts. Federal funds should instead be spent on making coastal communities more resilient to sea level rise and coastal flooding.”

To read the Executive Order, click here.

To read the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, click here.

To read the White House Council on Environmental Quality fact sheet, click here.


Updates to OSHA’s Recordkeeping Rule

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Recordkeeping regulation (29 CFR 1904) covered employers are required to prepare and maintain records of serious occupational injuries and illnesses.  Revisions to the OSHA reporting requirements went into effect on January 1, 2015.  The revised rule expands the list of severe work-related injuries that all covered employers must report to OSHA.

Employers are now required to contact OSHA within 24 hours following any in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye.  Additionally, employers are now required to notify OSHA of work related fatalities within eight hours following a fatality.  Previously, an employer was not required to report a single hospitalization, amputation or loss of an eye, as only work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees were required to be reported.

Employers can provide notice to OSHA of an occurrence by either: 1) calling the nearest local OSHA office during normal business hours; 2) calling OSHA’s free and confidential number at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); or 3) reporting the occurrence electronically using the new online reporting form that is expected to available in mid-January.

In addition to the new reporting requirements, OSHA updated the list of industries that are exempt from the requirement to routinely keep OSHA injury and illness records. The new list of exempt industries is based on the North American Industry Classification System and injury and illness data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Note that the new rule maintains the exemption for any employer with ten or fewer employees, regardless of their industry classification, from the requirement to routinely keep records.

The reporting requirement rule was revised to allow OSHA to focus its efforts more effectively to prevent fatalities and serious work-related injuries and illnesses. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. David Michaels, summed up the purpose of the new rule: “OSHA will now receive crucial reports of fatalities and severe work-related injuries and illnesses that will significantly enhance the agency’s ability to target our resources to save lives and prevent further injury and illness. This new data will enable the agency to identify the workplaces where workers are at the greatest risk and target our compliance assistance and enforcement resources accordingly.”

For more information about the new rule, visit OSHA’s website.

New York Public Authorities Law Amended To Establish That The Time To File A Notice Of Claim Against The NYC School Construction Authority Is To Commence At “Denial” Of Claim, As Opposed To “Accrual” Of Claim

On December 17, 2014, New York Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill to amend the New York Public Authorities Law, in relation to contractual claims and actions against the New York City School Construction Authority (“SCA”). The amendment adds an additional sentence to §1744(2) of the Public Authorities Law to provide that in the case of an action or special proceeding for monies due arising out of contract, accrual of such claim shall be deemed to have occurred as of the date payment for the amount claimed was denied.

Public Authorities Law §1744(2) is problematical to contractors engaged on SCA projects due to the three-month filing period from the “accrual of claims.” Courts have interpreted the three-month period to commence when the contractor’s damages are “ascertainable,” and “ascertainable” has been interpreted to mean “once the work is substantially completed or a detailed invoice of the work performed is submitted.” See C.S.A. Constr. Corp. v. NYC School Constr. Auth., 5 N.Y.3d 189, 800 N.Y.S.2d 123 (2005).

The failure to have a clear and precise point that determines when a claim accrues has led many contractors to lose a claim before it was denied by the SCA, or even before a contractor knew that the SCA disputed its claim. The purpose of the amendment is to establish an unambiguous point in time for the filing of a notice of claim against the SCA. Accordingly, the amendment establishes the accrual of a claim for notice of claim purposes as the point at which the claim is denied. The amendment will prevent the unintentional and unfair waiver of claims, and will reduce paperwork for both the SCA and its contractors.

The statute as amended brings §1744 of the NY Public Authorities Law into conformity with the similar notice of claim provisions of §3813 of the NY Education Law. Under §3813 of the Education law, the accrual date on any action or proceeding against a school district arising out of a contract shall be the date when payment was denied.

The amendment is effective only for SCA contracts signed on or after Dec 17, 2014. The text of NY Public Authorities Law § 1744(2) as amended can be seen here.

Itemization of Mechanic’s Lien Not Necessary Where Construction Contract Apprised Owner of Lienor’s Claim

New York Lien Law § 38 states that the holder of a mechanic’s lien “shall, on demand in writing, deliver to the owner or contractor making such demand a statement in writing which shall set forth the items of labor and/or material and the value thereof which make up the amount for which he [or she] claims a lien, and which shall also set forth the terms of the contract under which such items were furnished.” In Associated Building Services Inc. v Pentecostal Faith Church, 112 A.D.3d 1130, 976 N.Y.S.2d 699 (3rd Dept. 2013), the Court held that a lienor is not always required to provide an itemization of labor and materials furnished to substantiate its mechanic’s lien.

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Department of Buildings Expands Online Filings and Approvals

The New York City Department of Buildings (“DOB”) recently announced the expansion of its online NYC Development Hub. Introduced by the DOB to facilitate the review and approval process on major construction projects, the Development Hub is a high-tech plan processing center offering faster approvals, fewer office visits to DOB and reduced paper submissions. Since its inception in October 2011, the Hub has approved more than 300 new buildings and major renovation projects.

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Proposed Legislation Requires that Professional Services Contracts With Certain Bi-State Authorities Be Awarded Pursuant To Competitive Contracting Process

Two New Jersey state senators, Sens. Shirley K. Turner and Ronald L. Rice, recently introduced legislation, Bill S2489, that would require professional services contracts entered into by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Delaware River Port Authority, and the Delaware River and Bay Authority to be awarded through a competitive contracting process. Under current New Jersey law, contracts for professional services can be entered into without public supervision. Should the Bill become law, contracts for services that are of technical and professional nature, including but not limited to, contracts for architectural, engineering, and land surveying services must be publicly announced prior to being awarded. The contract would then be negotiated on the basis of demonstrated competence and qualification to meet the requirements of the particular professional services contract at a fair and reasonable price. The Bill includes exception provisions in the event an emergency is declared by the Governor of New York, the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Governor of Delaware, the Governor of New Jersey, or the President of the United States. A copy of Bill S2489 may be obtained here.

Co-contributor Marco A. Gonzalez, Jr. is a partner in the Newark office of Duane Morris LLP.

City Not Liable In Crane Collapse

In 2008, a crane operator and a construction worker were killed when a construction crane collapsed on the east side of Manhattan. The decedents’ estates brought suit against the project owner, the construction manager and the crane operator. The three construction defendants asserted cross-claims against the City of New York seeking indemnification and contribution on the grounds that the City failed in its duty to keep the construction site safe.

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Importance Of Using Consistent Terms In A Construction Contract

A recent decision of the Supreme Court of the State of New York reminds us of the importance of using consistent terms when drafting a construction contract. In Clinton Assoc. For A Renewed Envt. Inc. v. Monadock Constr. Inc., defendants, pursuant to a contract (the “Contract”), agreed to provide architectural services and contract administration services to plaintiffs.[i] As part of their work, defendants prepared architectural plans, including specifications for the design system and choice of materials for the exterior masonry wall system. The Certificate of Substantial Completion was signed on March 29, 2006 and, at or about that time, the masonry walls began to fail, causing the walls to bulge and take on water. It was determined that the walls could not withstand the weather cycles to which they were exposed. Following Substantial Completion of the project, defendants worked extensively to cure the flaws in the masonry walls by, among other things, creating an alternate design and supervising the corrective work until August 18, 2008, when an Architect’s Certificate approving the repairs was issued.

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Compliance With Contractual Notice Provisions

A recent decision of New York City Office Of Administrative Trials And Hearings (“OATH”) highlights the significance of compliance with each and every provision of a construction contract. Ferreira Construction Co., Inc. v. Dep’t of Transportation, OATH Index No. 1619/12 (Nov. 16, 2012), involved a public contract to reconstruct a pedestrian bridge in Manhattan at East 78th Street and the FDR Drive. The New York City Department of Transportation (“DOT”) contract contained a contractor initiated value engineering change (“CIVEC”) provision that gave the contractor an incentive to propose innovations by allowing for an award to the contractor of 50% of the cost savings if the proposal was accepted by DOT. The dispute concerned the application of the CIVEC clause. The contractor claimed that its accepted proposal under the CIVEC clause saved DOT $252,320.50, and that it was entitled to 50% of the savings of $126,160.25. DOT claimed that the proposal saved the agency only $93,011.50, and that the contractor was entitled to only $46,505.75 additional compensation.

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NYS 2100 Commission Releases Report on Improving New York State’s Infrastructure

In November 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo formed the NYS 2100 Commission in response to the recent, and extraordinary, weather events experienced in New York State (Super Storm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee). The Commission, consisting of 25 members, is co-chaired by Judith Rodin, President of Rockefeller Foundation, and Felix Rohatyn, former Chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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