Municipal Water Leader
Interview

Northwest Pipe’s Precision Design Aids Middlesex Water’s Plant Upgrade

Middlesex Water Company (MWC), which owns and operates several water and wastewater systems across the mid-Atlantic region, recently built an ozone treatment facility as part of a $70 million upgrade to its largest treatment plant in New Jersey. This improvement was challenging from a design and construction perspective: it required the rapid relocation and reconnection of an existing 72- inch reinforced concrete pipeline with a custom-designed steel pipe and elbow fitting manufactured by Northwest Pipe Company. To avoid disrupting service to MWC’s customers, Northeast Remsco Construction had to remove the existing pipe and install the new pipe in just 8 hours. In this interview, Michael J. Barnes, MWC’s director of project delivery, and Ron Payne, the senior project manager at Northwest Pipe Company’s Saginaw, Texas, plant, give us the owner's and manufacturer’s perspectives on this critical, highly precise project. 

Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to be in your current positions. 

Michael J. Barnes: I am the director of project delivery for MWC. I graduated from Northeastern University in civil engineering with honor and went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. I have over 40 years of experience with major civil engineering projects and started my career in 1978 as a water treatment consultant. In 1984, I started my operations career as director of aqueducts and distribution for the City of Jersey City, New Jersey. I have been responsible for raw and finished water pipelines of up to 102 inches in diameter. I was hired by MWC in 2013 as the executive director of a subsidiary water and sewer utility and was assigned to oversee and deliver the $70 million ozone treatment improvements at the company’s largest treatment plant, the Carl J. Olsen (CJO) Water Treatment Plant in Edison, New Jersey. 

Ron Payne: My current role is senior project manager at Northwest Pipe’s Saginaw, Texas, plant. I started with Northwest Pipe in 1991, so I’ve been here for 30 years. I started as a project designer, and through the years, I moved up to project manager and senior project manager. My job entails the drawing, engineering, and design side of pipe production. Once production starts, we hand it off to our production guys and we handle any design or contractual issues that may arise. 

Municipal Water Leader: Mr. Barnes, Please tell us about MWC. 

Michael J. Barnes: MWC, which is headquartered in Iselin, New Jersey, was incorporated as a water utility company in 1897 and owns and operates multiple regulated water utility and wastewater systems, primarily located in Delaware and New Jersey. Middlesex also operates water and wastewater systems under contract on behalf of municipal and private clients in Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. The company’s Middlesex system serves approximately 61,000 retail customers, and water from the CJO plant serves nearly half a million residents in eastern Middlesex County, New Jersey. 

The company’s range of services includes water production, treatment, and distribution; full-service municipal contract operations; designing, building, owning, and operating system assets; engaging in public-private partnerships; wastewater collection and treatment; water and wastewater system maintenance; and water and sewer line maintenance programs, which are carried out through a third-party vendor. 

Municipal Water Leader: Why did MWC decide to build an ozonation facility? 

Michael J. Barnes: While MWC meets current water quality regulations set by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it was seeking to upgrade its existing plant, increase its resiliency, improve water quality, and comply with increasingly stringent drinking water regulations. Replacing our current water treatment method with ozone allows us to mitigate the occurrence of disinfection byproducts that can form when chlorine is used for primary disinfection. This upgrade will improve the taste and odor of our water and will also enable the company to better address compounds of emerging concern. The end result of this project is improved water quality for our retail and wholesale customers. The plant upgrade is one of numerous water infrastructure investments being made under the company’s Water for Tomorrow capital program to enhance drinking water safety, reliability, and resiliency for current and future generations of water users. 

Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about construction of the facility and why it required the relocation of an existing pipeline. 

Michael J. Barnes: In order to construct the new ozone contact basins and chemical feed systems required during the upgrade, a few of the existing plant chlorine contact basins needed to be demolished, along with the associated large-diameter settled water pipelines. These pipelines, 60–72 inches in diameter, needed to be relocated to allow for the installation of the new facilities. 

Municipal Water Leader: What were the main challenges of the construction and relocation process? 

Michael J. Barnes: A project of this magnitude comes with many challenges, including the overriding requirement of continuing to operate the existing water treatment plant while the improvements are being carried out. In order to remove the existing facilities, several pipelines needed to be replaced with minimal disruption to plant operations. The first challenge involved the capping of a more-than- 50-year-old 72‑inch steel pipeline over the course of a 6‑hour plant shutdown. That occurred in fall 2019. Approximately 12 months later, with significant new facilities adjacent to the pipelines under construction, new 60‑ and 72‑inch pipelines and valve chambers were installed, preparing for final connection into the existing plant facilities which required a brief shutdown. This second 6‑hour shutdown, which occurred in fall 2020, required two connections into active pipelines to be made simultaneously. These connections involved complicated fittings, and I credit our teams with executing the connections with perfect precision. Our objective was to keep any disruption to plant operations to a minimum, and we accomplished that. 

Municipal Water Leader: What elements of the treatment process had to be shut down for this installation, and why was there a strict time limit on the pipeline replacement? 

Michael J. Barnes: The CJO treatment plant was originally constructed in the late 1960s, and a plant expansion was completed in 1999. This allowed plant operators to maintain operations through either the original plant facilities or the newer facilities. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on our plant to produce safe drinking water—something that is critically important during a pandemic for handwashing and good hygiene. The strict time limit for the construction last fall was necessary to ensure that our plant operations were maintained with minimal effects on our customers. 

Municipal Water Leader: Mr. Payne, tell us about the Saginaw, Texas, plant. How big is it and what kind of products does it make? 

Ron Payne: We make spiralweld steel pipe. For the unfamiliar, the pipe looks like something like a paper towel tube: It begins with a steel coil that is rolled helically and then welded inside and out to make the pipe. We line and coat the pipe as well. The lining is generally cement mortar and the coating is most often polyurethane. For the Middlesex Water project, we did a cement mortar coat on the exterior of the pipe.. All the fabrication and testing is done at our plant, which is just north of Fort Worth and covers about 40 acres. We have around 150 employees. 

Municipal Water Leader: What were the requirements of the MWC project, and how did it differ from other projects you’ve worked on? 

Ron Payne: Most of our projects are pipelines and are high footage and low fabrication. Plant jobs like this project, however, require a lot more fabrication work. The total footage was only about 525 feet, but fabrication made up about 45 percent of the job. On a normal job, it is only 10–20 percent. 

The project consisted of a small amount of 16‑ and 36‑inch pipe inside the existing water treatment plant and about 300 feet of 60‑inch line, which connected an existing 72‑inch line at one end to another existing 72‑inch line at the other. Off the 60‑inch line were a few 72‑inch laterals with connections to some stainless steel piping in the new ozone treatment building. We sometimes refer to pipes like that as spaghetti pipes, because they wander in different directions and have a lot of connections. The connections are the difficult part. At one end, our 60‑inch line connected to a reinforced concrete pipe, which is a whole different animal. Our 72‑inch diameter for that size pipe is 84 inches in diameter in their world, so we had to figure out how to connect two sections of pipe whose diameters differed by 12 inches. We worked with the install contractor, Northeast Remsco, which took a lot of field measurements throughout the design process. 

The line we provided ran just about 90 degrees perpendicular to the existing line. We had to build a 90‑degree elbow that went from 60 inches on one side of the elbow up to 84 inches in diameter on the other and hit those two points exactly. They had to install it within a shutdown time of about 6 hours. The contractors had to get the old pipe out, get our pipe in, and get it put together in that time. It went extremely well. 

Municipal Water Leader: Once the pieces of pipe that you fabricated were on site, was it the construction company that welded them together? 

Ron Payne: Yes. We provide the fabricated pieces and they do all the installation. Most of the joints on this job were welded. For this particular 84‑inch connection, we ended up providing the contractors a coupling made by a company called Smith Blair. The main lines we usually build are designed for pressures of 150–300 pounds per square inch (psi), but the pressure in this line was going to be below 10 psi, which allowed us to go with a slightly less conventional coupling. We had the coupling made to fit over the end of our steel pipe on one side and to fit over the concrete on the existing line. Northeast Remsco built a wall around the existing line with studs and harness rods in it. It tied it all together to make sure it was properly restrained. 

Municipal Water Leader: Did you choose the material for this particular project, or did the contractor request steel pipe? 

Ron Payne: The specifications for the job determine what kind of material can be used. We bid steel to the contractor, but other companies may have bid using some other type of pipe. Some jobs specify steel only; some allow ductile iron or PVC. We are bound by the project specifications as far as material—even down to what grade of steel or what type of paint can be used. 

Municipal Water Leader: What else was distinctive about this project? 

Ron Payne: We submitted this job for initial approval in August 2019, and it was released in May and September 2020. Over the 9 months from August 2019 to May 2020, we worked with the contractor, discussing how to make the connections to existing pipe work. The initial layout was based on original plant plans that depicted what should be in the ground, and it turned out that most of those connections needed to be adjusted based on the original configuration. The contractor came to us for suggestions. We had a job in Las Vegas 20 years ago with a similar characteristics—low pressure and steel connecting to concrete—and so I suggested that project’s solution to him. We started down that road and that’s what we ended up doing. It was interesting and fun to draw on something that I did two decades ago. 

Municipal Water Leader: What lessons did you take away from this project that you may apply to projects in the future? 

Ron Payne: Communication with the contractor was particularly important in this project, given the unusual connections involved. The contractor was on site with the surveyor, sending us CAD drawings. There was a lot of back-and-forth communication with our customer. That is important to make sure we get everything right. It’s something that I usually do and will continue to do. This project reinforced the usefulness of that approach. 

Michael J. Barnes, P.E., director of project delivery for Middlesex Water Company. For more on Middlesex Water Company, visit www.middlesexwater.com.

 

Ron Payne is a senior project manager at Northwest Pipe. For more information on Northwest Pipe Company, please see www.nwpipe.com.