Design-Build HDD Project Offers Assurance To Owner

Mears Group Inc. completed in April a 7,400-foot horizontal directional drilling bore in Jacksonville, FL, a design-build project that allows a regional energy producer to expand its natural gas pipeline to serve new facilities. To complete the project, Mears drilled a 7,400-foot pilot hole 130-feet beneath the St. Johns River bottom to install the 16-inch steel pipe. It is an essential link in a 50-mile pipeline that ends at the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA’s) Greenland Energy Center.

Though just 1.4 miles of the 50 mile pipeline, the section under the St. John’s River proved the most daunting in planning stages. “This was the biggest obstacle to go from one side to the other,” said Mark Haney, director of engineering for TECO Peoples Gas, owner of the pipeline.

Haney said HDD was virtually the only option to install the pipeline through that area. But project officials said the timing of the project was also a major issue.

Haney said that the pipeline providing service to the power plant will be operational by Jan. 1, 2011. That means JEA was dependent on the pipeline being in place in time to move forward on the operation of the power plant. To help ensure a timely project, TECO hired Mears to complete a design-build project.

“If it is not built on time you literally have a billion dollar power plant there with no fuel,” said John Fluharty, project manager for J.R. Giese Operations, Mears’ sub-consultant that handled engineering duties.

Fluharty says design-build allowed Mears to drill a pilot hole months in advance to pulling product pipe to ensure the project was feasible.

“(TECO) wanted to know that early enough in the process so they would also know if they needed to go another direction,” Fluharty said. “(TECO) wanted a true partnership put together so they could work out all the issues related to this special feasibility hole we did in advance.”

Design-build is relatively new to the HDD industry, Fluharty said.

Design-build offers a subtle but important difference from the typical procedure for HDD projects. In the standard process, a company such as TECO would hire an engineer to develop plans, procure a construction company to implement those plans and then construct the project — often called design-bid-build. Design-bid-build requires multiple contracts.

With design-build, however, a single company is hired to engineer and to build the project, all under a single contract.

Susan Hines of the Design-Build Institute of America says utilizing design-bid-build can create contention between the engineer or designer of a project and the company that constructs the project because of concerns of liability and litigation. For instance, Hines said when the construction company finds changes need to be made to designs during construction, it takes paper work and dialogue for the changes to be approved and implemented.

“It slows things down a lot,” she pointed out.

In the end, design-build projects help to improve two important aspects of any project: money and time.

Design build projects generally cost at least 6 percent less than design-bid-build projects and are constructed about 12 percent faster, according to the Design-Build Institute of America. At the same time, the institute reports that design-build projects earned the highest owner satisfaction than other project concepts.

“One of the main advantages of design build is the fact that everyone on the design and construction job is on the same side,” Hines said. “They are all sharing in the risks and the rewards of a job well done.”

She added: “Owners save money, they save time.”

Mears drilled the feasibility pilot hole for the project in November 2009. Product pipe was pulled in April 2010.

Mike Maxwell, Mears’ project superintendent, said the crew drilled from both sides of the St. Johns River and intersected the two holes under the river — a waterway lined with stately homes and used mostly for recreational purposes.

A 330,000-pound rig was used for the pilot hole on one side of the river and a 140,000-pound rig was used to drill from the opposite side.

Mears utilized its 500,000-pound rig to perform the reaming and to pull the product pipe through the hole, Maxwell said. Crews reamed the bore to 24-inch diameter and then swabbed the hole before pulling the product pipe. The bore path went through sandy silt before making it to clay for the drill’s running depth.

“It was fairly easy going; we were able to use a jetting bit all the way through,” Maxwell said. “The length of the drill combined with the unique aspects of the job, made it a satisfying accomplishment.”

Mears Group, (800) 632-7727,

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