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AECOM, C.H. Nickerson & Company, and SUEZ Partner on Woonsocket Water Treatment Plant

by: Paul Fournier
D’Ambra Construction Co. installs pipeline for new $57 million water treatment plant underway in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, by design-build-operate team of AECOM-C.H. Nickerson-SUEZ.
D’Ambra Construction Co. installs pipeline for new $57 million water treatment plant underway in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, by design-build-operate team of AECOM-C.H. Nickerson-SUEZ.
Concrete forms are stripped from process basin as part of $57 million design-build-operate water treatment plant contract performed by AECOM-C.H. Nickerson-SUEZ in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
Concrete forms are stripped from process basin as part of $57 million design-build-operate water treatment plant contract performed by AECOM-C.H. Nickerson-SUEZ in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
A Caterpillar excavator lowers ductile iron water pipe in trench for cross-country portion of pipeline for new Woonsocket water treatment plant.
A Caterpillar excavator lowers ductile iron water pipe in trench for cross-country portion of pipeline for new Woonsocket water treatment plant.
D’Ambra worker guides placement of a length of iron pipe within rebar cage for concrete envelope.
D’Ambra worker guides placement of a length of iron pipe within rebar cage for concrete envelope.
Cullion Company delivers ready-mix to form pipeline’s protective concrete encasement.
Cullion Company delivers ready-mix to form pipeline’s protective concrete encasement.
New treatment plant began producing purified water following comprehensive testing in summer 2021.
New treatment plant began producing purified water following comprehensive testing in summer 2021.
After several weeks of pandemic-induced delay in 2020 during construction of the new Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Water Treatment Plant, the three partners of the design-build-operate (DBO) contract completed the $57 million facility and had it producing purified water by July 2021.

AECOM, C.H. Nickerson, and SUEZ were selected by the city in March 2018 to design, build, and operate the new 7 million gallons per day drinking water facility. The project is part of the municipality’s plan to improve water quality in line with state regulations. The new water treatment plant recycles its discharge, thus protecting the environmentally fragile Blackstone River – often cited as one of the nation’s most polluted rivers. Previously, the water treatment plant discharged its effluent directly into the river through three outfalls. With the new process, effluent is being piped to the city’s sewage plant for treatment.

Under the DBO contract, AECOM oversees plant design, engineering, planning, and guidance. C.H. Nickerson & Company constructed the plant, while SUEZ has ensured continuity of service by operating the existing plant during construction and now operates and maintains the new plant.

The DBO Advantage
SUEZ works in liaison with the city’s Department of Public Works, headed by Director Steven D’Agostino. The DPW has overall responsibility for Woonsocket’s drinking water treatment and distribution. Woonsocket continues to own the water system, including the plant and distribution network, and controls rate setting. CDM Smith remains the city’s consultant.

John Finnegan, P.E., AECOM Project Manager, said ground was broken at the plant site late in May 2018, with Steve Emmendorfer and John Mack serving as Nickerson’s Project Manager and Project Superintendent, respectively. Mike St. Pierce is Project Manager for SUEZ, which has a 20-year, approximately $41.6 million contract to operate the new plant and a raw water pump station.

The DBO project delivery model chosen by city officials has several important advantages over traditional design-bid-build or design-build methods. DBO components are procured from the private sector in a single contract. A private entity is responsible for design and construction as well as long-term operation and maintenance. Usually, a public sector sponsor secures the project's financing independently and retains the operating revenue risk. For this project, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank is providing Woonsocket with a whopping $55 million loan at below-market rates, resulting in considerable savings.

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Furthermore, the project design can be tailored to the construction equipment and materials that will be used. If a long-term maintenance program is needed, no one knows the job better than the DBO team. They can create a program that is pertinent and practical and lowers the risk of unexpected problems that could develop into costly repairs.

In addition, a tailored maintenance program typically includes project lifecycle costing.

According to FHWA, the benefits of lifecycle costing are particularly important, as most infrastructure owners spend more money maintaining their systems than on expansion. What’s more, the lifecycle approach removes important maintenance issues from the political uncertainties affecting many maintenance budgets, with owners often not knowing how much funding will be available to them from year to year. In such cases, they are often forced to spend what money they do have on the most pressing maintenance.

Success Stories
SUEZ, AECOM, and Nickerson have successfully teamed up on many DBO water and wastewater treatment projects, especially along the East Coast. In New England, for example, the two giant global companies and Connecticut contractor have successfully collaborated on projects in East Providence, Newport, and Woonsocket in Rhode Island; and Devens, Holyoke, and Springfield in Massachusetts.

Most recently, the DBO team was awarded a contract to perform over $65 million in capital improvements to the 40-year-old Lynn, Massachusetts, Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. This mega-facility treats about 26 million gallons a day and can accommodate up to 100 million gallons during wet weather. It serves 140,000 people, including the 93,000 residents of Lynn, and residents of neighboring communities Nahant, Saugus, and Swampscott.

The Designer
AECOM is an American multinational engineering firm that provides infrastructure consulting – from planning and design to program and construction management – on projects spanning transportation, buildings, water, energy and the environment. AECOM was formed by the merger of five entities in 1990. Since then, more than 50 companies have joined AECOM and, in 2007, it became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. While the company was legally established in 1990, some of its predecessor firms had working histories dating back to the 1800s.

AECOM earned about $13.3 billion in professional service revenue during fiscal year 2021. The company is No. 189 on the 2021 Fortune 500 roster, one of those muscular companies who taken together generate about $13.8 trillion in revenue – some two-thirds of the U.S. economy. On August 17, 2021, AECOM issued a press release announcing plans to relocate its global headquarters from Los Angeles, California, to Dallas, Texas.

The Builder
Established in 1939 in Torrington, Connecticut, C.H. Nickerson & Company is a general contractor with in-house engineering capability. Since the 1950’s the company has specialized in environmental construction throughout New England, building or rehabilitating more than 200 water and wastewater treatment facilities. In addition, the company has delivered projects in other markets such as commercial, industrial, institutional, energy production, and transportation. Typically, the company self-performs the work on most of its projects, for example, doing the concrete, masonry, carpentry, equipment installation, and process piping, to name a few.
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Nickerson has successfully employed design-build delivery for several large projects, including a Department of Transportation bus maintenance facility in Stamford, Connecticut; a $30 million water treatment plant also in the City of Stamford; and in conjunction with its joint venture partner AECOM, a $60 million design-build contract for the renovation and upgrade of The Lawton Valley and Station Number One water treatment plants in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Operator
With 90,000 personnel on five continents, Paris-based SUEZ provides water and waste management services for municipalities and industries. SUEZ generated total revenue of €17,2 billion (approximately $19.4 billion US) in 2020.

Subsidiary SUEZ North America, which posted revenues of $1.1 billion in 2020, operates across all 50 states and Canada with 2,800 employees. The company provides drinking water and wastewater treatment, and waste collection services, for nearly 7 million people daily. It treats 560 million gallons of water and more than 460 million gallons of wastewater each day, and also processes 160,000 tons of waste for recycling. In the United States, the company was awarded a series of water and wastewater treatment services contracts worth $212 million, including the operation and maintenance contract for the Lynn, Massachusetts, wastewater plant, worth approximately $155.7 million over 20 years.

SUEZ is also currently operating and maintaining the recently completed Woonsocket, Rhode Island, water treatment plant and raw water pump station under a 20-year, $41.6 million agreement with the city.

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