On February 9, 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced it concluded its mandatory hearing on Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s (SNC) application for two Combined Licenses (COL) at the Vogtle site in Georgia, and that in a 4-1 vote, the NRC found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue the COLs.
On February 8, 2012, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (the “Department”) announced that the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court approved its petition to liquidate First Sealord Surety Insurance.
According to the Department’s Commissioner, Michael Consedine, the Department petitioned the Commonwealth Court for a liquidation order because “First Sealord Surety is no longer able to meet its policyholder obligations or pay its debts as they come due.”
On January 18, 2012, the Pennsylvania Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council (the Council) voted 11 to 5 against the adoption of the 2012 I-Codes, the model building codes published by the International Code Council (ICC). The Council, however, did make an exception regarding the accessibility portion of the 2012 model code. Based on this vote, the Council is now charged with submitting a report to the Secretary of Labor and Industry by July 2012, and the bulk of the 2009 edition of the ICC’s codes will remain the basis for Pennsylvania’s uniform construction code.
Because the 2012 I-Codes were not adopted, the ICC’s new “green building” model code, called the International Green Construction Code will not be included in Pennsylvania’s construction code.
Many of Pennsylvania’s construction trade organizations celebrated the Council’s decision, because they believe the implementation of new codes would add additional costs that the construction industry cannot afford. Similarly, the Council voted against the 2011-I Codes, because, inter alia, the new codes were complicated and impossible to enforce.
The Association of General Contractors of America released its construction employment data for 2011, and, as expected, the overall construction market remains weak. Although construction spending between December 2010 and December 2011 increased by 4.3 percent, two of the country’s largest cities, Philadelphia and New York City, experienced sharp declines in their construction workforce. More specifically, out of the 337 metropolitan areas listed by the AGC, Philadelphia reported the largest job loss with a loss of 4,800 construction jobs, a 7 percent decline. New York City was a close second with a construction job loss of 4,600 jobs, a 4 percent decline.
On the bright side, Lake County-Kenosha County, Ill.-Wis., added both the most and the highest percentage of new construction jobs (33 percent, 3,900 jobs). Other areas adding a large number of jobs included Edison-New Brunswick, N.J. (3,700 jobs, 11 percent); Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash. (3,600 jobs, 8 percent); Louisville-Jefferson County, Ky.-Ind. (3,100 jobs, 13 percent) and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. (3,100 jobs, 10 percent).
Overall, construction employment increased in 148 out of 337 metropolitan areas between December 2010 and December 2011, decreased in 128 areas, and stayed level in 61 areas. Association officials said that recent developments in Washington that could lead to passage of long-delayed highway, bridge, transit and aviation investment legislation could give a needed boost to construction employment in many areas.
As passenger rail service continues to rise, Amtrak has announced an “aggressive” construction agenda for 2012. For example, Amtrak intends to spend $15 million in 2012 for planning and other pre-construction activities on its Gateway Program to provide additional capacity into Manhattan for Amtrak intercity and New Jersey Transit commuter services, including the proposed NextGen HSR system. As part of the overall plan, which is expected to cost several billion dollars, Amtrak will build two additional tunnels under the Hudson River to access expanded terminal facilities serving New York Penn Station and the future Moynihan Station on the site of the former Farley Post Office. In addition, Amtrak plans to replace and expand the century old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River and increase from two to four the number of tracks between Newark and New York.
Design-Build project delivery has gained ground recently in New York. In a sweeping budget deal last month (December 2011), including provisions restructuring the personal income tax code, New York authorized certain state agencies to utilize design-build for road, bridge and other capital projects in excess of $1.2 million. The agencies benefitting from the deal include the Department of Transportation, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Presentation and the Department of Environmental Conservation. Awards are to be made on a “best value” basis to bidders from a prequalified list.
Under Pennsylvania’s Mechanics’ Lien Law, only a “contractor” or “subcontractor” is permitted to file a lien claim against an owner of property, 49 P.S. § 1303(a), for the payment of debts due by the owner to the contractor or by the contractor to any of his subcontractors for labor or materials furnished during a project. 49 P.S. § 1301; see 49 P.S. § 1201(4), (5) (defining “contractor” and “subcontractor”).
On January 6, 2012, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held in Bricklayers of W. Pa. Combined Funds v. Scott’s Dev. Co., 2012 PA Super 4; 2012 Pa. Super. LEXIS 5 (2012) that a labor union is a “subcontractor” under the Mechanic’s Lien Law, and, therefore, trustees of a union benefit fund have standing to file a mechanic’s lien claim on behalf of its members.
As a result of the Superior Court’s ruling, labor unions will likely file more mechanics’ lien claims for unpaid and/or delinquent contributions. Thus, in order to ensure that no mechanic’s liens are filed on a project, owners should attempt to verify on a monthly basis that money is properly disbursed down the construction chain. Towards that end, an owner needs to obtain partial payment releases from its contractors and subcontractors on a monthly basis. In addition, an owner should consider making certain payments by joint check, if the owner suspects any problems.
Effective this month, the State of Texas joins the list of states with both anti-indemnity and anti-additional insured statutes. In legislation signed last summer by Gov. Rick Perry but not effective until January 1, 2012, Texas — previously viewed by construction law practitioners as a permissible venue which it came to risk shifting and indemnification — joined the now long list of states prohibiting clauses in construction contracts requiring indemnification of indemnitees for their negligence. Moreover, in so doing, Texas also joined the small but growing list of states prohibiting additional insured requirements – such as requirements in subcontracts requiring subcontractors to add contractors, construction managers and owners as additional insureds to the subcontractors’ policies. Other states on that list include: Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.
On December 22, 2011, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a rule certifying an amended version of Westinghouse’s AP1000 reactor design for use in the United States. The amended design certification, which will be incorporated into the NRC’s regulations, will be valid for 15 years.
The AP1000 is a 1,100 megawatt electric pressurized-water reactor. Westinghouse submitted an application for certification of the original AP1000 standard plant design on March 28, 2002, and the NRC issued a rule certifying that original design on January 27, 2006.
Westinghouse, however, submitted an application to amend the AP1000 on May 27, 2007, in order to ensure that the AP1000 could meet certain post 9/11 requirements, which included incorporation of protection around the building that could sustain the impact of an airplane crash.
Many in the industry now expect that the NRC will issue combined construction and operating licenses for new nuclear units.
On October 26, 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of General Services announced that a joint venture between Walsh Construction and Heery International, with a bid of $315,797,000, was selected to build a new, multi-use state correctional facility in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
The project, called State Correctional Institutions Phoenix East and West, had been delayed by bid protests and litigation, and was rebid after original plans were completely overhauled to meet the present and future needs of the Department of Corrections. The facility, which is expected to be completed by 2014, will be built on the grounds of SCI Graterford.