September 2019  

UCANE and Other Interested Parties Weigh in on Emergency Dig-Safe Regulations

The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU), of its own accord on July 18, issued an order instituting an emergency rulemaking proceeding adopting emergency revisions to 220 CMR 99.00, “Procedures for the Determination and Enforcement of Violations of Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 82, §§ 40 through 40E (“Dig Safe”).” In making revisions to the Dig Safe regulations, the DPU treated the amendments as emergency regulations because their immediate implementation was deemed necessary to ensure public safety. According to the DPU, these revisions are designed primarily to implement the federal minimum safety requirements for damage prevention, pursuant to 49 C.F.R. Parts 192 and 196. The DPU also adopted changes to 220 CMR 99.00 for the following reasons: (a) to clarify the obligations of both excavators and utility companies; (b) to establish more efficient procedures for the enforcement of violations; and (c) to correct minor errors and delete outdated, duplicative, or unnecessary information (such as deleting definitions that are identical to those in the Dig Safe law, Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 82, §§ 40-40E).

UCANE, as well as a number of utility companies and wide-ranging stakeholders, including, but not limited to Dig Safe Systems, Inc., the Northeast Gas Association, Construction Industries of Massachusetts, the American Council for Engineering Companies of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Water Works Association, all weighed in on the regulations. In its comments, UCANE highlighted a significant number of areas in a submitted “redline” version of the regulation. Specifically, UCANE expressed concern about the wholesale changes and stated:

As you might expect, our contractor members are all experienced with the Dig Safe One-Call system and Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 82; §§40-40E – the “Dig Safe” laws – as well as 220 CMR 99.00 et. seq.. Likewise, UCANE has a long history of working together with various state agencies, including the Department of Public Utilities (DPU), to ensure the safety of our jobsites.  Apart from the need to make one change to comply with federal law relative to the notification of public safety officials in the event of an emergency utility strike, the consensus among UCANE’s members is that the current Dig Safe system, before this emergency order, was working. Specifically, the process of outlined in 220 CMR 99.03 – 99.05 (Premarking, Notifying Dig Safe, Marking, and Remarking) was working successfully as designed in the statute. In recent discussions with Dig Safe and a few major utility owners, they appear to be of the same opinion.

While this is not to say that 220 CMR 99.00 et. seq. was perfect or would not benefit from certain clarifications, the main thrust of the regulations – getting utilities marked out while allowing excavation projects toproceed safely and in a timely manner– was working.  With this in mind, the regulatory changes proposed in DPU 19-43 make several revisions to the Dig Safe regulations that will result in disruption to the current working system, create expensive project delays, adds costs to contractors, utility owners and municipalities – without increasing public or worksite safety.

Of particular concern to most commenters was a requirement that limited the “markout” distance to 500ft.  In the case of many utility installations (i.e. gas and water) and roadway milling or reconstruction, the contractor can perform well over 500 feet of work in a single day. As noted by many commentators, requiring excavators to coordinate onsite meetings with utility representatives is unworkable in the vast majority of cases. Notwithstanding the fact contact names and numbers are not readily available, UCANE’s testimony also highlighted that “anecdotal comments from utility companies indicate that they do not have enough staff to accommodate all these meetings – nor do contractors. The redrafted language of 220 CMR 99.3(4) will result in costly delays to infrastructure projects and increased personnel costs to both the excavator and the utility companies.”  As stated by other commentators as well, these costs will inevitably be passed on to the municipality or the ratepayer.

In interesting commentary to the emergency Dig Safe regulations, a combination of utilities ranging from National Grid and Eversource to Columbia Gas, focused their comments on the (1) the marking of abandoned facilities; (2) privately-owned underground facilities; (3) on-site consultations; and (4) the notification requirements associated with marking new facilities.  As to abandoned facilities, the utilities are pushing against identifying abandoned utilities, instead offering their representatives for consultation on an as needed basis.  With respect to privately-owned underground facilities, the utility companies expressed concern that the new requirement “shifts the burden of determining the presence of these privately-owned underground facilities from the excavator, who is responsible for safe excavation of the site, to the Companies, who are responsible to mark their own facilities that may only cross a small portion of the site.” As to “on-site consultations,” the utilities expressed concern about the idea of personally visiting worksites, as such, but asked the DPU to make videoconferencing a means of compliance as well as requiring excavators to provide summaries of these interactions. Finally, the utilities argued that Dig Safe is already positioned to notify excavators about new facilities and, therefore, no new requirements should be placed on the utility companies.

The DPU has ninety days from the regulations’ promulgation to potentially amend the new regulations.  A copy of the DPU’s Order and Emergency Regulations, and all comments submitted, may be viewed www.eeaonline.eea.state.ma.us/DPU/Fileroom(enter “19-43”).

 

Baker-Polito Administration Awards $12 Million to Improve Skills Training

The Baker-Polito Administration announced in August the awarding of $12 million to 45 high schools, colleges and educational institutions that will use the grant to acquire the newest technologies to educate students and expand career education opportunities.  Schools can also now apply for an additional round of Skills Capital Grants, totaling $15 million that will be awarded in the fall.

The goal of the Skills Capital Grants, which range from $50,000 to $500,000, is to help high schools, colleges, and other workforce training organizations invest in the most up-to-date equipment to give their students an advantage when they continue in their chosen field or area of study. These grants cover a broad array of fields, from construction and engineering to healthcare and hospitality.

According to a press release issued by the Governor’s Office, the program has awarded more than $65 million to 233 different programs over the past four years. Through Skills Capital Grants, schools have expanded their enrollment capacity in high-demand occupations, enabling more than 12,500 additional students to enroll in these educational programs that are a priority for employers across the Commonwealth. Four of the organizations awarded received Skills Capital Grants for the first time.

Several schools plan to use the grant to launch new career pathway programs, which give students knowledge and skills in a particular industry sector such as health science, information technology, environmental science, engineering, or manufacturing. In an effort to close the skills gap in certain industries, the state launched Innovation Pathways, a program to encourage high schools to give students exposure and experience in fields that are rapidly growing in the Commonwealth.

Through Innovation Pathways, high school students take college-level courses in an area of study, receive technical instruction and work at internships with local employers who partner with high schools. The Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education work together to help schools design programs, which must follow certain principles to receive official designation.

Of particular note to the construction industry, the following schools and educational institutions received Skills Capital Grants in this round:

Barnstable High School – $250,000 Environmental Science &Technology Pathway.Students who participate in the Environmental Science and Technology Pathway will be able to gain industry credentials, including Waste Water Certificate/License and Drinking Water Operator. The grant will support the design and construction of a Water Quality Analysis Lab to conduct sampling techniques and analysis using industry specific equipment and demonstrate practices related to municipal waste and drinking water treatment.

Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School – $300,000 Welding Technology Automation.Many workers who possess welding skills are employed in the building and construction trades, as well as emerging wind energy sector. The grant will enable the school to enhance its technology with virtual welding simulators, vertical tilt bandsaws, press break, a hydraulic shear, and CNC Plasma Table.

Massasoit Community College – $250,000 Diesel Technology Program.New diesel engine equipment purchased with the grant will support the college’s existing programs, as well as introduce a new Alternative Fuels and Emissions certificate to complement its associate degree program, giving students an option to earn an entry-level credential. In addition, the college has partnered with the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department to pilot a program to train soon-to-be-released inmates to become diesel technicians.

Somerville High School – $186,900 Welding and Metal Fabrication Technician.Somerville High School’s Welding Simulation project will use cutting-edge welding technology to enhance the learning experience of students entering the workforce and adult learners looking to reenter the workforce with new skills. Lincoln VRTEX Welding Simulators will be integrated into Somerville High School’s metal fabrication and welding program to teach students core welding techniques in a safe, controlled environment where they can work at a steady and personalized pace.

For more information about the Skills Capital Grants Program, please visit:  https://www.mass.gov/upgrading-technology-with-skills-capital-grants.

 

Resilient Mass. Action Teams Created to Address Climate Adaptation Plan

In an effort to continue the work towards addressing climate change, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the establishment of the Resilient MA Action Team (RMAT), an inter-agency team that will work to implement the Commonwealth’s Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan and improve resilience to climate change.  Led by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the RMAT will be staffed by designated Climate Change Coordinators from each Executive Office.

According to the Baker-Polito Administration, the work of RMAT implements a core component of Governor Baker’s Executive Order 569, which established an integrated climate change strategy for the Commonwealth. The RMAT will provide guidance and decision-making for State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan implementation, further refine priority actions, and ensure actions are integrated into agency practice and policy. In its first year, the RMAT will be exploring development of statewide climate resilience standards and completing a resilience evaluation for our annual capital planning process to ensure that investments are climate-smart.

The State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan, released in September 2018, provided a model for integrating hazard mitigation priorities with forward-looking climate change data and solutions. The plan recommended 108 actions for the Commonwealth to pursue to increase resilience and reduce risks and vulnerabilities to natural hazards and projected climate change.  The State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan is also implemented by municipal partnerships through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program.

The creation of the RMAT occurs as the Massachusetts legislature considers climate resiliency legislation in the form of Speaker Bob DeLeo’s “GreenWorks” legislation and the Governor’s Resilient MA legislation.  Both bills, although through different funding mechanisms, seek to support municipalities and help protect Massachusetts’ residents, communities, economy, natural resources, and infrastructure from the adverse effects of climate change. While the plan passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in July relies on bonds, the Governor seeks to increase the excise on real estate transfers to fund a substantial and sustained investment in climate change adaptation through programs like MVP and the implementation of the State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan.

The Commonwealth’s “Statewide Hazards Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan” may be found at: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/10/26/SHMCAP-September2018-Full-Plan-web.pdf.

 

Commonwealth’s Unemployment Rate Drops

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced in mid-August that the July total unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point at 2.9 percent. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts lost 3,500 jobs in July. Over the month the private sector lost 4,100 jobs as losses occurred in Leisure and Hospitality; Education and Health Services; Professional, Scientific and Business Services; Construction; and Financial Activities. Manufacturing jobs level remained unchanged over the month while Trade, Transportation and Utilities; Other Services; and Information added jobs. Government added jobs over the month.

From July 2018 to July 2019, BLS estimates Massachusetts added 37,300 jobs. The July unemployment rate was eight-tenths of a percentage point lower than the national rate of 3.7 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped four-tenths of a percentage point. The labor force decreased by 4,400 from 3,838,800 in June, as 2,100 fewer residents were employed and 2,400 fewer residents were unemployed over the month.

The state’s labor force participation rate – the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks – dropped one-tenth of a percentage point over the month to 67.6 percent. Compared to July 2018, the labor force participation rate is up one-tenth of a percentage point.  The largest private sector percentage job gains over the year were in Other Services; Education and Health Services; Information; and Leisure and Hospitality.

With respect to industries within and impacting the construction industry, the following information was reported:

  • Trade, Transportation, and Utilities added 600 (+0.1%) jobs over the month. Over the year, Trade, Transportation, and Utilities gained 1,500 (+0.3%) jobs.
  • Professional, Scientific, and Business Services lost 1,100 (-0.2%) jobs over the month. Over the year, Professional, Scientific and Business Services gained 3,300 (+0.6%) jobs.
  • Construction lost 500 (-0.3%) jobs over the month. Over the year, Construction has lost 2,500 (-1.6%) jobs.
  • Government added 600 (+0.1%) jobs over the month. Over the year, Government gained 6,700 (+1.5%) jobs.

The July estimates show 3,723,200 Massachusetts residents were employed and 111,200 were unemployed, for a total labor force of 3,834,400. The unemployment rate was down one-tenth of a percentage point at 2.9 percent. The July labor force decreased by 4,400 as 2,100 fewer residents were employed and 2,400 fewer residents were unemployed over the month. The labor force participation rate, the share of working age population employed and unemployed, dropped one-tenth of a percentage point at 67.6 percent. The labor force was up 18,000 from the 3,816,400 July 2018 estimate with 34,400 more residents employed and 16,400 fewer residents unemployed.

The unemployment rate is based on a monthly sample of households. The job estimates are derived from a monthly sample survey of employers. As a result, the two statistics may exhibit different monthly trends.

Labor force and job estimates for Massachusetts will be released on Friday, September 20, 2019. Detailed labor market information is available at www.mass.gov/lmi.