IBJ: You’re new to Southwestern Illinois. What’s been your impression?
Etwert: It’s been quite interesting. It’s good to see the community support. Everybody that I talk to is well aware of the projects and what’s really nice is that the funding is in place. Things have turned out so well during the last two years. The bids have come in so good that we will probably end up with a surplus of $10 million dollars.
IBJ: Are you benefitting from a poor construction economy?
Etwert: I like to say we’re benefitting from good design but the construction timing has probably helped us, too. Two years ago, the council wasn’t sure that they were going to have enough money to build the projects. The estimated cost was about $150 to $160 million and, as it turns out, it’s probably going to cost more like $110 million. So, we may have funds left to do some projects to start working toward the 500-year level. That’s the ultimate goal. Our goal is to get the 100-year certification by the end of 2015.
IBJ: What major projects are left to be done?
Etwert: There are six projects currently under construction and they total about $39 million. Approximately 25.8 percent has been completed through the end of June. A high river level has slowed the construction process the last month or so. The final two projects are the shallow and deep cutoff walls in the Wood River area. The estimated cost for the shallow cutoff wall in upper Wood River is $2,750,000 and the deep cutoff wall in lower Wood River is estimated at $12,650,000. There will be bid openings on those two projects on Aug. 13 with scheduled board approval on Aug. 20. The (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers is still doing the Section 408 review of these two projects, but it is still hoped that the review and approval will be completed by mid-August. The bid openings were moved up to help stay on schedule. Our goal is to have all construction completed by May 2015, Corps certification by August 2015 and FEMA accreditation by Dec. 31, 2015.
IBJ: Didn’t you have some problems with the Corps on those Wood River projects?
Etwert: Yes. The council was going to let the Corps do them so the Corps started on the design but there were problems. The Corps wouldn’t guarantee how much it was going to cost so the council didn’t know what its share would be. They also would not commit to a completion date and the Corps also would not commit that the projects would be built by a contractor using the Project Labor Agreement. For those reasons, the council decided to take the project back. Our consultant needed to tweak the Corps’ design so the Corps required a Section 408 review involving multiple levels of the Corps going all the way to the national office in Washington, D.C. Since the Corps had done the original design, they promised an expedited process. We’re expecting it by Aug. 18. There is constant communication between the Corps and AMEC, our consultant, so, hopefully, that schedule will keep on track.
IBJ: In doing that, didn’t the council give up about $20 million of federal funding?
Etwert: That’s right, but it gave the council more control. The Corps wouldn’t guarantee when it was going to get done or what it was going to cost and they really resisted using a Project Labor Agreement. We’ve had PLA’s on the other six contracts and it hasn’t been a problem. The council’s position is that this project is being paid for with local funds and it should be local labor working on the project and being paid the prevailing wage.
IBJ: My understanding is that the Corps is doing a project to remedy issues created by the movement of the dam downstream years ago. Where does that stand?
Etwert: They started to do some of their drilling for their design and ran into some big boulders so then they had to go back to the drawing board. They’re supposed to have that all worked out this summer. They will spend the next year on their design and they won’t start construction until October of 2015.
IBJ: How have you found the Flood Prevention Council to work with?
Etwert: It’s a great board. This is the fourth governmental agency that I’ve worked for. I worked for the Los Angeles County Flood Control District when I got out of college. I worked for St. Louis County Public Works Department and I worked for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District. By far this is the most cooperative board that I’ve seen. They have one mission — get these projects built to the 100-year level of protection and use as much Southwestern Illinois labor as you can doing it. I don’t know how many other areas in the country are doing the type of projects that we’re doing with 100 percent local funds. We’re probably unique in that regard.