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Nancy Mccarthy of The Skanner
Published: 01 March 2006

While the city gets ready to bore a 5.5-mile tunnel 120 feet under Portland's east side, minority contractors should be sharpening their pencils to compete for at least $26 million in construction contracts.

The Portland City Council last week approved a $426 million construction project for the eastside Big Pipe, which will divert untreated sewage and stormwater from the Willamette River.

The company hired to do the project, Kiewit/Bilfinger Berger, has identified $53 million in "opportunities" for local subcontractors, and of that, at least $26 million could go to minority- or women-owned businesses, said Bill Mariucci, the company's project director.

"This is a long project and that's what we are today vs. where we could be when we're done. It's a dynamic project," said Mariucci, who noted that because the project will take several years, there may be more opportunities for minority contractors than initial estimates include.

Construction on the tunnel will begin by mid-March and is scheduled for completion by December 2011. It will extend from Swan Island, along River Street, move east to Southeast Third Avenue, then to Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard up to 17th Avenue. Water will be diverted from 12 existing combined sewer outfalls that discharge into the Willamette River and will be held in the tunnel until the water can be pumped to the city's treatment plant.

The plan also calls for seven shafts — on Swan Island, at River Street between the Broadway and Fremont bridges, at the Steel Bridge, on Southeast Third Avenue and Alder Street near the Morrison Bridge, near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, on Southeast Taggart Street near the Ross Island Bridge and on McLoughlin north of 17th Avenue.

A similar project on the west side is nearing completion. The two "Big Pipes" will meet at Swan Island when the entire $1.4 billion project is done.

Although the city and Kiewit/BilfingerBerger haven't established firm goals for minority participation, Mariucci said, the best estimate is that 50 percent of the local subcontracting to be done will go to minority contractors.

Paul Grippon, program manager for east- and westside pipe projects for the city's Bureau of Environmental Services, noted that the numbers could change, as they did on the west side. Originally, officials estimated that $13 million would go to minority subcontracting projects, but that ultimately grew to over $20 million.

To determine what projects could go to minority- and women-owned businesses, Kiewit and the city relied on their previous large-project experience and on the availability and experience of local minority companies, Mariucci said. The work was broken down into individual projects that could accommodate the size and expertise of those companies.
The city also considered the companies that are part of its "sheltered market" program, which attempts to improve bidding opportunities for emerging, minority- and women-owned businesses.

The company also included the minority-owned businesses on the state's certification list to determine how much depth Oregon has in the minority construction field. Group AGB, a subcontracting and diversity firm that has worked with other local agencies, helped to parcel projects according to talent.

Minority contractors who want to bid for projects can find a list of projects and an application form on the Kiewit Bilfinger Berger Web site,www.kbbescso.com. Winning contractors will have already been certified by the state that they are qualified to do the work and they will promise to do it at the lowest cost.

Finding enough minority contractors for the projects envisioned is "very doable," Mariucci said.

Although no penalties will be enforced against the company if it fails to supply $26 million in minority construction projects, the work will be monitored monthly, Grippon said. The company is required to submit a list of subcontractors that delineates what work was done by minority-owned, women-owned and emerging businesses.

"If it does start to lag, we will sit down with the contractor and find out what the problem is," Grippon said.

An independent eastside review committee, composed of city employees and local citizens, also will review the information, and it will be available to the public, he added.

Interns on the business side of the project and apprentices on the construction side also are being sought, Mariucci said.

"We would really like to hire as many local interns as we can," Mariucci said. "I started as an intern. It's really a great opportunity for someone to evaluate the company and for us to look at someone to make sure it's a good fit. When they graduate from college, they may come to work for us full time."

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