In today’s construction news, read about how, despite promised federal money, America’s deteriorating flood defenses continue to let the country down. Meanwhile, this merger represents the most recent example of a strategic alliance between two American companies with expansion goals. Lastly, according to court documents filed by the consortium developing the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline, West Virginia environmental officials have issued a new water permit, clearing the way for construction to resume.
A Risky Flood Control Strategy Involves New Construction and Outdated Data
Even with federal investment, America’s antiquated flood control infrastructure fails.
This spring, several states are at risk of flooding due to heavy downpours and a substantial snowpack in the Western Alps and Upper Midwest.
The costliest natural disaster in the U.S. is flooding, which causes 90% of natural disaster damage. Nearly every day, it happens.
Yet, most of the ancient infrastructure supposed to defend U.S. communities is in poor condition or crumbling. Dams, levees, and stormwater infrastructure received a D grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2021.
Assistance is coming. In 2021, Congress authorized billions for infrastructure projects under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. But there’s a problem: New infrastructure planning often uses historical flood patterns rather than climate change risk estimates.
We investigate flood risks and mitigation as civil and environmental engineers. As federal infrastructure funding increases, towns risk spending millions on systems unprepared for floods.
Most of the nation’s flood control infrastructure was built for 20th century storms and flooding. Many stormwater systems, levees, and dams are nearing or past their usable lives.
The nation’s river levees average 50 years old. Average retention pond lifespan is 20–30 years. Retrofitting old stormwater systems in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia is expensive.
Midland, Michigan, faced the risks in 2020 when excessive rainfall collapsed the 1925 Edenville Dam. Two lakes and more than 2,000 dwellings were drained when a second downstream dam collapsed. The dam’s owner lost its hydroelectric license two years ago for neglecting to widen its spillway.
Under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new risk-based premiums, federal flood insurance costs in coastal Louisiana and Florida are more than three times higher. At the same time, low-income families are most at risk when Pajaro, California, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, flood.
Old flood risk data won’t help.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the most significant U.S. infrastructure measure in recent years, contains $55 billion in additional expenditure for water infrastructure, which is reaching communities. But that’s only 8% of what the American Society of Civil Engineers thinks is needed for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure improvements.
Another issue emerges when the money arrives.
To predict future flood danger, new infrastructure is often planned using historical data like high-water marks and storm strength. However, climate change is shifting baselines.
Globally, extreme wet and dry conditions have risen in extent, duration, and intensity. More moisture in a warming environment means greater downpours. Heavy precipitation has caused more frequent and severe flooding in the U.S.
13 million Americans—4% of the population—live in 100-year flood zones, which have a 1% probability of flooding each year, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, FEMA’s maps typically ignore minor streams that travel through densely populated areas.
Updates to federal flood maps take years. Many still use decades-old data and ignore climate change dangers. Community leaders and residents may become complacent until it’s too late.
Communities can use alternatives to better plan for the future.
The organization First Street Foundation created the first local U.S. flood maps that account for future flood danger. By 2050, climate change would increase U.S. flood damage by 26% and expand into places that rarely experienced significant flooding. Costs and risk increase as individuals build in high-risk regions.
What can communities do?
Change the status quo to protect communities by factoring climate change into infrastructure development and creating creative flood management regulations.
Stopping construction of new residences in flood-prone locations can prevent future damage and the need for expensive infrastructure, but political pressure and housing shortages can make this difficult.
Buyouts of flood-prone homes to prevent rebuilding are expensive and delayed, but over 1,100 counties in almost every state have utilized them to avert repeated floods. Moving away from rivers and coasts is often the only choice. Managed retreat is contentious but gaining popularity, especially in sea level rise-prone towns. Community leadership is key to success.
Nature-based solutions like bioswales, wetlands, and rain gardens can trap and absorb rainwater, minimizing river runoff and flooding.
Building and sustaining large-scale infrastructure is required for many communities to remain unchanged. One way to save money is to design levees and seawalls to be enlarged or elevated.
Innovative and sustainable funding strategies may be needed to promote flood resilience. Local flood resilience programs sponsored by government grants, private donations, and tiny local fees are one alternative. These monies might invest in long-term solutions and sustainable land management to minimize flooding.
Many municipalities are prioritizing flood measures and long-term investments, frequently prompted by people. Changes won’t happen quickly, but taking preemptive actions and supporting new solutions will benefit communities in the long term and is fiscally responsible.
US Construction and Government Contract Law Experts Smith Currie and Oles Morrison Will Join Forces
US corporations seeking geographic expansion and sector strength have merged again.
Smith Currie & Hancock and Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker, two midsize US firms, have announced a merger to form a “construction and government contract law powerhouse.”
Smith Currie Oles, a 76-lawyer firm with seven full-time national offices and two by appointment, will be based in Atlanta and Seattle, respectively. The tie-up is aimed to solidify both firms’ top national rankings in construction and government contract law.
Eric Nelson, Smith Currie’s managing partner, said, “The arrangement of uniting the two firms will augment Smith Currie’s strength in providing comprehensive legal services to all segments of the national construction industry.”
The united firm will be able to service clients coast-to-coast in the heavy highway/civil and infrastructure sectors, according to Smith Currie.
Oles Morrison managing partner Tom Krider stated, “The partnership generated by the firms coming together presents remarkable growth opportunities for everyone involved, and the result will include robust support and services for our construction industry clients nationally.”
Krider will join the combined firm’s executive committee, with Nelson remaining managing partner.
This year and beyond, the firm would “continue actively seeking growth opportunities” throughout its operations.
The Smith Currie and Oles Morrison merger contributes to a rise in law firm mergers this year, with Fairfax Associates reporting that the first quarter saw more US acquisitions than in 2022.
Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe’s merger with Washington DC-based Buckley and Holland & Knight’s merger with Nashville-based Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis were examples.
Smith Gambrell & Russell, another Atlanta business, merged with Freeborn & Peters in April.
“We expect the increase in merger activity in the first quarter to continue as 2023 unfolds,” Fairfax added. Law companies want to enhance core practices and build industry strength, not only expand geographically.
After Shearman and Hogan Lovells abandoned merger talks in March, Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling announced a potential mega-cross-border merger.
After WV Approval, the US Mountain Valley Natural Gas Pipeline is Closer to Construction
The company developing the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline stated in court papers that West Virginia environmental officials awarded a fresh water permit, bringing work closer.
On Monday, Mountain Valley informed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that West Virginia renewed the West Virginia-to-Virginia pipe’s Section 401 water quality certification on June 8.
The Fourth Circuit, which has vacated several of the project’s federal and state permits, was still hearing litigation from environmental and local groups opposed to the project.
Appalachia is the nation’s largest shale gas basin, and the project will unlock more gas.
Height Capital Markets, an investment banking and research firm, said the U.S. Fiscal Responsibility Act’s support for Mountain Valley and the West Virginia permit “significantly raises the probability of a 2023 placed-in-service date” for the project.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide a Section 404 water permit by June 24, according to Mountain Valley’s court petition.
“Once (the Army Corps) does, Mountain Valley expects to resume construction,” Mountain Valley stated in the application.
One of the U.S. pipeline projects delayed by regulatory and legal battles with environmental and local groups is Mountain Valley, Appalachia’s sole large gas pipeline.
Mountain Valley’s major partner, Equitrans Midstream Corp, estimated the 303-mile (488-km), 2-billion-cubic-feet-per-day project would cost $3.5 billion and commence operation by late 2018.
Mountain Valley is owned by Equitrans, NextEra Energy Inc, Consolidated Edison Inc, AltaGas Ltd, and RGC Resources Inc. Leslie Adler edited; Scott DiSavino reported
Summary of construction news
To sum it up, flood resilience will require creative and sustainable funding. Government grants, individual donations, and minor municipal levies can fund local flood resilience funds. These funds can fund long-term solutions and sustainable land practices to reduce flooding.
Meanwhile, after Shearman and Hogan Lovells abandoned merger talks in March, Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling announced a mega-cross-border merger.
Lastly, Mountain Valley, Appalachia’s only large gas pipeline, is one of numerous U.S. pipeline projects delayed by regulatory and legal battles with environmental and local groups.