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Local jobs are issue in bridge work

East Lyme Congressman Joe Courtney and local labor groups have complained to Amtrak about the railroad company's decision to award a $104.7 million contract to Cianbro/Middlesex VII for the replacement of the Niantic River Bridge.

Though Cianbro has not outright stated they won't hire local workers, the Connecticut Laborers' District Council along with the New London-Norwich Building & Construction Trades Council said the company has never signed a project labor agreement in previous projects. The purpose of such an agreement is to ensure that local people have an opportunity to work on the project.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order last year encouraging the use of these agreements for projects that are federally funded and have a value of more than $25 million.

“These agreements have a history of ensuring not only timely and quality construction, but also provide local workers who are state residents employment opportunities that may in fact go to out-of-state workers, which would not benefit our local economy," said Keith Brothers, president of the New London-Norwich Building & Construction Trades Council. "This is a real economic tragedy for our state economy and the loss of hundreds of jobs for our workers."

The replacement of the 102-year-old moveable bridge over the Niantic River is the largest Amtrak project being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Brothers said the three-year project calls for about 700,000 man-hours and will need between 250 and 300 workers. Amtrak officials said it is set to begin work in April.

The project involves construction of a new two-track bridge south of its present alignment. Additional work includes expanding the navigation channel used by water traffic beneath the bridge, realigning the east and west track approaches to the bridge, and relocating the Niantic Bay Overlook (boardwalk), including beach restoration.

In a statement Thursday, Courtney said that for nearly a year, he has worked with the administration, congressional leaders, Amtrak and other stakeholders to ensure that local laborers will be used for the bridge replacement contract. Immediately following the announcement of the award last week, he met with House Transportation and Infrastructure James Oberstar and Amtrak President/CEO Joe Boardman to express his disappointment.

"Amtrak has made an unfortunate decision by awarding this contract to a company not fully committed to using locally sourced labor. The Niantic Bridge replacement is one of the largest projects funded by the recovery plan and serves as a tremendous opportunity to put Connecticut's highly-skilled work force back to work," Courtney said.

Courtney said he will continue to urge Cianbro and Amtrak to work together to use Connecticut's work force for as much of this project as possible.

Cianbro Corp., of Pittsfield, Maine, specializes in heavy industrial and civil construction projects. Some of the projects completed by Cianbro include the replacement of the Thames River railroad bridge, the construction of the Tomlinson Bridge in New Haven, installation of two 12,000-ton offshore semi-submersible oil-drilling rigs, a 1.5- megawatt General Electric wind turbine and decommissioning work at the Yankee Rowe Nuclear Plant.

Cianbro's joint venture with the Middlesex Companies, of Littleton, Mass., is performing work on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge over the Quinnipiac River and the replacement of the Brightman Street Bridge in Fall River and Somerset, Mass.

a.renczkowski@theday.com

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