Latest News

New Orleans Ordinance Designed to Prevent Negligence in Skyscraper Construction

Date: October 19, 2021

A new ordinance in New Orleans requires a third-party licensed structural engineer to review construction plans for buildings 75 feet or taller. The rule was created in response to the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel during its construction two years ago, in which three workers were killed and dozens of others were injured.

According to the ordinance, the PE who does the inspection must not have a financial interest in the building, and must provide a report to the city’s department of safety and permits. Also, the ordinance defines “structure” as including the structural frame and the load-supporting parts of floors, roofs, walls, foundations, cladding, cladding framing, stairs, equipment supports, railings, and more.

After the collapse, investigators found that city inspectors falsified information. They also discovered the building plans were changed after construction began, including modifications involving steel support beams; these changes may have played a part in the collapse, WWLTV reports.


Huge Solar Farm Planned Near Lake Charles Draws Controversy

Date: October 19, 2021

A planned massive, one-million panel solar farm on a former rice farm is drawing ire from nearby residents who are concerned about wildlife and possible health effects. Some residents have filed a lawsuit against Aurora Solar, the company behind the proposed project. The subsidiary of Oregon-based Avangrid Renewables is part of the Spanish multinational firm Iberdrola, according to The Advocate.

The company is leasing 3,400 acres for the project—more than five square miles. Solar panels will be placed on more than two-thirds of the land. The farm will generate between 300 and 400 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 30,000 homes in Louisiana, according to industry estimates. In comparison, Entergy’s recently opened Lake Charles Power Station has a 994-megawatt capacity, The Advocate reports.

Aurora plans to invest up to $325 million in the project and estimates it will create 300 to 500 temporary construction jobs. Such proposals are spurred by the low percentage of the state’s energy use that comes from renewable resources—just 3.3%, compared to the national average of 18.5%.

Researchers Apply Data from Ida to Strengthen Infrastructure

Date: September 10, 2021

A professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University is using wind, wave, and surging tide measurements in an effort to bolster levees, update urban planning and, hopefully, save lives. The professor, Qin Jim Chen, is part of a federally funded project called Nearshore Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association, worked with a team of researchers from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge and the University of Florida. The team navigated tricky terrain to physically install the gauges only hours before the storm made landfall.

“Levees are often designed using model results of hypothetical hurricanes,” says Chen. “We want to see whether the existing theories we’ve used to build these levees are accurate. Using this new data, we can check our assumptions and hypotheses to improve these designs and better protect people and property.”


Anti-Licensing Forces Miss the Point

Date: September 10, 2021

Extreme anti-licensing bills have popped up in numerous states and are posing a threat to the rigorous and established professional standards followed by PEs, architects, and others who design and construct the built environment, according to an op-ed in The Hill.

Lawmakers calling for these extreme measures don’t differentiate between barbers and manicurists, for example, and PEs and architects, say Tom Smith, executive director of ASCE, and Michael Armstrong, CEO of NCARB. “In their absolutist free-market view, reflected in the language of their model legislation, a visit to a barbershop or beauty salon should be treated the same as designing a bridge or water treatment plant.”

The legislative proposals range from measures that would eliminate licensing entirely to so-called “Universal Licensing” bills that would require states to accept licenses from any state regardless of whether the out-of-state license had the same level of qualifications behind it.


Grid Experts Grapple with ‘Resilience’ in Ida’s Wake

Date: September 10, 2021

The widespread destruction left by Hurricane Ida after the storm plowed into Louisiana and headed up the East Coast made one thing clear: There’s more work to be done in building a resilient power grid, reports E&E News. But how might solutions differ from New Orleans to New York, especially as climate change scrambles conventional wisdom about when and where extreme weather strikes? “The nature of the risk has changed,” said Saurabh Amin, an associate professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Levee Project Breaks Ground

Date: August 11, 2021

After a more than 50 year wait, a massive levee project along the western shores of Lake Pontchartrain has broken ground, reports Engineering News-Record. The levee will stretch 18.5 miles from the Bonnet Carre Spillway to the Mississippi River Levee near Garyville and will cost $760 million. The project will be constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers; once completed, the Pontchartrain Levee District will maintain and operate the levee system. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is the project’s nonfederal sponsor.

The project involves building a 15-ft levee in virgin swampland with poor soil conditions. “You’ve got to determine what is the best way to build an earthen levee in a swamp—a freshwater swamp at that,” said the executive director for the Pontchartrain Levee District. “So there were lots of investigations, lots of surveys that went into this.”


Solar Farm May Become State’s Largest

Date: August 11, 2021

Construction of a solar farm that would be the largest in the state and would sell power to the likes of eBay and McDonald’s is slated to begin construction in October and connect to the grid in June 2023, according to the Advocate. The project developer, Lightsource Renewable Energy Development LLC of San Francisco, says the facility in Pointe Coupee Parish will generate 345 megawatts. Lightsource is a subsidiary of BP.

Encouraged by a tax exemption, more than a dozen other solar projects are proposed in the state. The exemption would provide the projects up to 10 years of property tax breaks for land turned from agricultural use to industrial for a large-scale solar project.

LSU Prof Leads Groundwater Modeling Study

Date: July 21, 2021

An LSU professor of civil and environmental engineering will be leading the development of a regional-scale groundwater model across multiple states followed by a study of groundwater availability impacted by anthropogenic pumping, climate change, and droughts, according to the Times Picayune. LSU will be working on the project with Southern University, the University of Mississippi, and the University of Alabama; the goal is better water resource management for the Gulf region.

In the project’s second phase, the team will integrate the model with other water management strategies, such as alternative water sources from rivers, wastewater, and storm water, including social and economic analyses. The aim is to reduce groundwater pumping by using more surface water from the Mississippi River or reclaimed water.

In other education news: UL-Lafayette adds the state’s first bioengineering concentration for engineering majors, reports WGNO.


Construction Plans for Methanol Plant Restarted

Date: July 21, 2021

A Canadian company has restarted plans to build a methanol plan in Geismar in Ascension Parish, reports the Advocate. Originally, the plant was expected to cost $1.4 billion and produce 1.8 million tons of methanol, but due to global economic uncertainty, those plans were scaled back. After pausing the project for more than a year, Methanex Corp. plans to cut the project’s size by $200 million to $600 million. The company expects to begin manufacturing methanol from the plant—its third in Geismar—by the end of 2023 or early 2024.

Louisiana LNG Facilities Grow…But Questions of Risk are Raised

Date: June 10, 2021

Venture Global LNG is proposing four liquefied natural gas export terminals in south Louisiana and plans to capture greenhouse gases from at least two of them and inject the gasses into saline aquifers for permanent storage, reports the Advocate. The company may extend its carbon-capture plans to all four of the proposed terminals. One is under construction in coastal Cameron Parish, where another project is proposed, and two are proposed south of New Orleans.

While federal regulators approved the construction of export terminals along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as fracking made the US a major natural gas producer, critics say industry safety calculations significantly understate the potential force of a specific type of accidental explosion, according to the Washington Post. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration told the Post it intends to draw up rules next year that would deal with the risk in question.

“Eventually, regulators and industry engineers came around to the understanding that these terminals do pose inherent new dangers, almost as an afterthought,” the article says. “But even to this day, federal regulators accept at face value the industry’s calculations regarding what engineers call a vapor cloud explosion.”


The Balancing Act of Louisiana’s Climate Goals

Date: June 10, 2021

Louisiana became the first Deep South state to sign on to an interstate climate compact to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, writes Popular Science, but part of that agreement would involve cutting net emissions by a quarter in under five years. That means Louisiana will need to cut about 50 million metric tons of emissions—more than its entire transportation sector.

Louisiana is not like other states. While the industrial sector accounts for about 13% of emissions nationally, Louisiana industry accounts for two-thirds of its emissions. Adding to the challenge, the state hasn’t done a comprehensive inventory of its carbon emissions since 2010.

At the end of the day, the article says, “the state seems to be pursuing both green industry and oil.” However, “There are good reasons to think that Louisiana could become a hub for green jobs. The heavy engineering jobs of the oil and gas sector have similar skill sets to renewable energy and coastal restoration.”

Contract Awarded for LNG Terminal, Industry Faces Challenges

Date: May 17, 2021

A joint venture of KBR and Venture Global LNG has been awarded a contract to build a proposed $8.5 billion liquefied natural gas export terminal south of New Orleans, reports NOLA.com. The Plaquemines LNG project will cover a 630-acre site about 20 miles south of New Orleans. The project is expected to support up to 2,200 construction jobs and hire 250 workers at the terminal once completed.

Plaquemines LNG is the second of four liquefaction projects proposed by Venture Global, all in Louisiana, according to S&P Global. The first, Calcasieu Pass, is under construction and may begin operations as early as this fall. When completed, Calcasieu Pass will be the seventh major liquefaction facility in the US.

Although LNG has rebounded from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, reports the Houston Chronicle, the industry, sparked by the fracking boom, is new for the Gulf Coast. “It remains to be seen if the LNG industry can balance long-term supply with demand. Analysts worry that if most of the planned projects — not only on the Gulf Coast but around the world — come online over the next four years, supply could outstrip demand.”


Remembering the I-10 Bridge

Date: May 17, 2021

The 70th anniversary of the Interstate 10-Calcasieu River bridge arrives on September 28, but its opening came sooner than planned, according to the American Press in Lake Charles. Turns out that state highway engineers determined that the bridge it was replacing was “in such condition that a possible failure may occur at any time” and the heavy traffic should be taken off it as soon as possible.

The article also tells the story behind the bridge’s name. During construction, the chief engineer of the highway department proposed a name at a Louisiana Engineering Society meeting. He suggested the Lafitte Bridge, after pirate and privateer Jean Lafitte. The chief engineer added that the handrailing of the bridge had been marked with the sign of the pirates — crossed pistols. The proposal didn’t catch on, however, and the bridge was officially named the Louisiana Memorial World War II Bridge in June 1951.

A proposal has been made to replace the 70-year-old bridge. Read the recommendations for a new six-lane bridge from the I-10 Bridge Task Force.

19th Century Orphanage Transformed into Boutique Hotel

Date: April 21, 2021

The transformation of a nearly 150-year-old former orphanage into a 74-room boutique hotel in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans was recently highlighted in ENR. The project involved The project involved converting five historically designated buildings into the $22.5-million Hotel St. Vincent, a 71,500-sq-ft luxury hotel with a newly constructed 6,000-sq-ft event space and private verandas for each room. A representative of the general contractor, Palmisano, said: “Historic, boutique hospitality projects are one of the most complex project types in the commercial design and construction industry,” Moldaner says. “The physical constraints and deteriorating conditions of a historic structure, combined with the goal of creating a one-off guest experience, creates an extraordinary level of collaboration across a large and diverse project team.”


Fossil Fuel Execs Try Out Solar

Date: April 21, 2021

A group of fossil fuel industry service executives has started a New Orleans renewable energy developer, reports Houma Today, as a way to hedge their bets in oil and gas. NuQuest Energy cofounder Kirk Barrell said that he sees a momentum shift and opportunity in renewable energy. Entergy, for example, plans to buy several hundred megawatts of renewable power from developers like NuQuest in the coming years. According to the article, NuQuest is close to sealing a deal for its first self-funded solar project. It would produced around 100 megawatts of electricity.

Corps Report Sets Stage for Historic Project

Date: March 18, 2021

The rebuild of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands took a step forward on March 5 with the release of an environmental impact report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The upshot: The benefits of the proposed $1.4 billion project are well worth the risk, reports Engineering News-Record.

The project would be one of the largest environmental infrastructure projects in the nation’s history. “As a concept, it’s a game changer,” says Kristi Trail, professional engineer and executive director of the Pontchartrain Conservancy, a nonprofit that advocates for environmental sustainability through scientific research. “We see it as something that must move forward in order to change how things are going with our current land loss.”


Industry Overuse Puts Capital City Drinking Water At Risk

Date: March 18, 2021

Deep beneath Baton Rouge, the Southern Hills Aquifer System provides water to 650,000 people in six parishes. It also supplies hundreds of oil and gas plants, chemical manufacturers, and commercial support contractors. “But the aquifer is being depleted faster than it is being replenished, just as it is in at least four of Louisiana’s 11 major aquifers,” according to New Orleans Public Radio. Industries withdraw an average of more than 56 gallons of groundwater per person — more than anywhere else in the country. A state audit manager said, “Essentially, the capital area has not effectively regulated groundwater usage from this aquifer. The Southern Hills aquifer needs to be regulated, so it can continue to provide drinking water for the citizens for years to come.”


Advocacy for New Bridge Continues

Date: March 18, 2021

A new Mississippi River bridge has been called a unicorn, but the Advocate reports that the latest talks may lead to a different outcome. A new bridge could provide relief from the gridlock on the Interstate-10 bridge, which is crossed by about 150,000 cars and track daily. Big questions remain, however, about funding and the bridge location. An earlier attempt to build a bridge failed in 2011 after vocal opposition from parishes that stood to be affected.


Petroleum Engineering Enrollment Drops

Date: February 10, 2021

Enrollment numbers for petroleum engineering students at LSU and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have been declining for five years, reports the Acadiana Advocate, due to the deterrent of persistently low oil and gas market prices. LSU and UL Lafayette offer the only petroleum engineering programs in the state. Here’s a look at the numbers:

  LSU    UL Lafayette
Fall 2015 801
Fall 2016 649 551
Fall 2017 478 391
Fall 2018 327 235
Fall 2019 197 163
Fall 2020 129

Among the areas of change raising questions about the discipline are the auto industry’s adoption of new energy sources and the possible deemphasis of fossil fuel by the Biden administration.


Audit: Louisiana needs to improve emissions enforcement

Date: February 10, 2021

State auditors are calling on the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to do a better job of identifying industrial polluters that don’t properly report air emission violations and enforcing those violations more aggressively, reports the Associated Press. The new state audit “found the time it took for the state agency to issue enforcement actions after a known violation more than doubled between financial year 2015 and 2019, from nearly 10 months to nearly 20 months.” Further, the auditors wrote that the department “doesn’t adequately track the penalties it has assessed, whether the penalties were paid or which facilities fail to submit self-monitoring reports on emissions.”


Louisiana Job Opportunity

Date: February 10, 2021

Civil Engineer
Spackman Mossop Michaels

See other engineering job opportunities on the NSPE Job Board.

Army Taps LSU Coastal, Engineering Expertise to Improve Resilience

Date: January 27, 2021

LSU engineering and science experts will receive $9.3 million over four years from the US Army to help make military operations better prepared for and more resilient to climate-induced hazards. The university will focus on ecological, coastal and water resource computational modeling and engineering to improve the functionality and resilience of military installations and operations under present and future conditions. The research is part of a program among the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory, LSU, and the University of Delaware. The funding is the largest grant to fund a single-team coastal science and engineering project at LSU.


Federal Funds Slated for Terrebonne Levee System

Date: January 27, 2021

For decades, local advocates have sought federal funds for the levee system that protects Terrebonne and part of Lafourche from Gulf storms. Now that wait is over, reports Houma Today. This year, the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane-protection system is scheduled to receive about $12.5 million from the Army Corps of Engineers. The money will go toward raising much of the levee system to around 20 feet and building two massive floodgates in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, one in Houma and another in Larose.


Corps Calls for Further Study of Dam

Date: December 16, 2020

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wants to take 3½ additional years and spend an extra $6 million to study the proposed Darlington Dry Dam and better assess the risk of catastrophic failure and its impact on minority communities and archaeological sites,” according to the Advocate. The proposed $1.3 billion dam would reduce flooding of the Amite River Basin, but the project comes with significant life and safety issues as well as environmental justice and archaeological concerns.


Members Contribute to Licensing Board

Date: December 16, 2020

NSPE member Linda Bergeron, P.E., of Des Allemands, has been named as a new board member of LAPELS. She is a senior process engineer at Occidental Chemical Corporation, and she is a Chemical PE Exam development volunteer with NCEES.

NSPE member Alan Krouse, P.E., has left the LAPELS board after completing his six-year term.


LNG Facility in Plaquemines Moves Forward

Date: December 16, 2020

KBR Inc. has won the engineering, procurement and construction contract as lead contractor for Phase 1 of the Plaquemines LNG export project under development by Venture Global LNG in Plaquemines Parish, according to the 10/12 Industry Report. The announcement comes as a surprise. Over the summer, KBR said it would leave the energy business to focus on its technology and government solutions segments. In June, Reuters reported, “If Venture Global goes forward with Plaquemines this year, it could be the only U.S. LNG project to enter construction in 2020 after most other developers delayed their projects as coronavirus lockdowns cut global demand for energy and caused gas prices in Europe and Asia to drop to record lows.”

Plastics and the Public Health, Safety, Welfare

Date: November 18, 2020

The Army Corps of Engineers said it intends to suspend a permit for the construction of a $9.4 billion plastics complex along the lower Mississippi River in St. James Parish, reports Pro Publica. “Last year, an analysis by ProPublica and The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, conducted with an expert in air modeling, estimated that in the community across the river from the plant, hundreds of residents will face double the toxic levels of cancer-causing chemicals than they currently do,” the article says. “One mile east in the predominantly Black community of St. James, those levels could more than triple.”

In a motion filed in federal court, the Corps it needed to reevaluate part of its analysis under the Clean Water Act. The act, according to the article, requires an analysis of all environmental impacts, including air pollution.


Offshore Wind Takes a Step Forward

Date: November 18, 2020

Governor Edwards recently presented his strategies for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, including offshore wind energy, reports WorkBoat.com. Edwards has asked the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for help setting up a task force that will coordinate commercial offshore wind leasing proposals for the federal waters off Louisiana’s coast. Several Louisiana companies have worked on the first commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S., built off Rhode Island.

Louisiana Lawmakers Propose National Disaster Safety Board

Date: October 28, 2020

Two Louisiana legislators have proposed a measure that would create an independent board that would recommend ways local governments could strengthen their resilience to severe weather events, according to Transportation Topics. Sen. Bill Cassidy and Rep. Garret Graves “The board would be modeled after the independent National Transportation Safety Board, which produces reports after investigating plane crashes, and major commercial highway and railroad accidents,” the article states. On October 9, Cassidy said, “Americans across the country from the Gulf Coast to California are dealing with the results of natural disasters. Another hurricane is zeroing in on Louisiana right now. By establishing a natural disaster safety board, lessons learned from past disasters save lives and perhaps even prevent future disasters.”

Interested in taking action on legislative issues of interest to professional engineers? Visit NSPE’s Advocacy Center.


Solar Grows in Baton Rouge Area

October 28, 2020

A new solar facility with nearly 200,000 panels on a former sugarcane field is now plugged into the capital area’s electrical grid, reports the Advocate. The nearly 600-acre facility near Port Allen is part of Entergy’s plan to deliver more renewable energy to customers. The solar panels, according to the article, “face the eastern sky in the morning and track the sun’s path as they rotate throughout the day, which allows them to capture 30% more energy than stationary panels.”

In other solar news, the West Side Journal reports that a San Francisco-based firm has plans to build a solar energy manufacturing facility in West Baton Rouge Parish. The firm has filed an advanced notice with Louisiana Economic Development to begin building in 2022 and complete the project in 2023.


We Want to Hear from You!

Date: October 28, 2020

Do you know of engineering news in Louisiana that would be great for this newsletter? Maybe it’s a project you or your firm is working on, or perhaps you read some interesting engineering news in your local newspaper. Or maybe you know of a fellow PE or student who deserves a little recognition. If so, we want to hear from you. Email your ideas to pemagazine@nspe.org.

Will Louisiana Act to Remove the PE Exemption?

The National Transportation Safety Board has identified Louisiana and 30 other states that currently do not require a licensed professional engineer on natural gas pipeline projects. The NTSB sent a letter to the governors of each of the states in the fall, urging them to end exemptions for gas pipeline operators and asking for an update within 90 days.

The NTSB issued an investigation report on the September 2018 Merrimack Valley gas pipeline explosions with two critical recommendations: first that all the states with license exemptions for public utilities eliminate the exemption, and second that a professional engineer be required to review and approve gas pipeline construction and maintenance documents.

When the NTSB began its investigation, staff reached out to NSPE seeking information about licensing exemptions. Through a series of conversations and emails, NSPE shared report data, information on the licensing process and requirements, and its position statement on licensing exemptions. As a result of conversations with NSPE and other organizations, the NTSB adopted a policy of addressing and eliminating engineering license exemptions within the gas pipeline industry.

NSPE’s national staff continues to be in conversation with the National Transportation Safety Board and state societies on this issue.


Baton Rouge Red-Light Camera Contract Raises Licensure Concerns

A case of potential unlicensed engineering practice and red-light camera installation strikes again—this time in Louisiana. Efforts to renew a Baton Rouge red-light camera operations contract has come with some controversy over a firm unlicensed to practice engineering in the state.

Vera Mobility, formerly known as American Traffic Solutions, operates 24 red-light cameras in 16 intersections in Baton Rouge. The city’s previous professional services contract with the firm specified that installation drawings be stamped by a civil engineer licensed in Louisiana according to an article published by The Advocate on November 19.

Louisiana state statute requires firms that practice engineering to be licensed in order to safeguard life, health and property, and to promote the public welfare. Vera Mobility isn’t licensed with the Louisiana Professional Engineering and Land Surveying Board.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council voted to extend the firm’s contract until 2023 despite a pending lawsuit that seeks to take the red-light cameras out of operation, according to The Advocate.

The case is similar to one in which the North Carolina engineering licensing board concluded, after an investigation in 2018, that American Traffic Solutions Inc., violated the law when it installed red-light cameras and produced survey data without a license to practice in the state.

In August 2019, the Colorado State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers, and Professional Land Surveyors issued a cease and desist order to Redlex Traffic Systems for practicing engineering without a license in the state. Redlex Traffic Systems provided professional services to the city and county of Denver in July 2008 in violation of state engineering law.


NTSB Report and NSPE's Action on this Issue

Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent letters to the governors of 31 states named in its final report on the Merrimack Valley gas pipeline explosions, including Louisiana. The letter requests an end to the engineering license exemption for gas pipeline operators in these states, and asks for governors to provide an update to the NTSB with in 90 days.

When the NTSB began its investigation of the Merrimack Valley gas pipeline explosions, investigative staff reached out to NSPE seeking information about licensing exemptions. Through a series of conversations and emails, NSPE shared report data, information on the licensing process and requirements, and its Position Statement on licensing exemptions. Consequently, NSPE was successful in getting the NTSB to adopt a policy of addressing and eliminating engineering license exemptions within the gas pipeline industry.

NSPE’s national staff continues to be in conversation with NTSB staff, and will continue to share updates as they happen. We are happy to support state efforts at eliminating this exemption.

Read the full report from NTSB.

NTSB Report and Recommendations

Pipeline explosionA BURNED-OUT MASSACHUSETTS HOME AFTER THE GAS EXPLOSIONS
CREDIT: NTSB

NTSB has released an abstract of its forthcoming final report on the fatal Merrimack Valley pipeline explosion from September of last year. Final revisions are being made to the report, but in the report’s synopsis/executive summary, NTSB states that “requiring a licensed professional engineer to stamp plans would illustrate that the plans had been approved by an accredited professional with the requisite skills, knowledge, and experience to provide a comprehensive review.” Acknowledging the importance of the role of the PE in preventing an event like this from occurring, NTSB recommends the elimination of the licensing exemption on natural gas pipeline projects in the 31 states that have the exemption in place, including the state of Louisiana.

Read the synopsis of the report.