Diversion management firm helped plan London Olympics

FARGO – The Red River diversion project isn’t CH2M Hill’s first rodeo.

The Denver-based firm that was hired last year to manage Fargo-Moorhead’s project has a worldwide presence and a vast network of clientele.

A glimpse at the company’s work will arguably have no grander stage than when the 2012 Olympic Games begin Friday in London.

CH2M Hill was one of three project management firms that were hired to lead engineering and construction of the London Olympics, a seven-year feat that came with a price tag of $10.6 billion.

Among the services CH2M Hill helped provide were:

  • Construction of the 500-acre Olympic Park that features nine new venues and upgrades to existing, historic venues such as Wimbledon.
  • A transport program for London’s air, road and rail network to accommodate the large crowds attending the games.
  • Coordinating a safety and security program for the two-week event.

CH2M Hill has more than 30,000 employees worldwide and has been consistently ranked No. 1 in project management by a leading trade magazine, Engineering News-Record.

Across the pond – and half a continent away – CH2M Hill’s presence in Fargo-Moorhead is on a far more muted stage but, for local officials, no less important.

The Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority hired CH2M Hill last fall to coordinate all the moving parts that come with making the proposed $1.8 billion Red River diversion a reality.

“They’ve been invaluable,” Diversion Authority Chairman Darrell Vanyo said. “To have a party of the magnitude of CH2M Hill, with their expertise, handling the day-to-day activities … they’re vital to the process.”

Having a project management team takes the weight off local officials that would otherwise have to manage the project on their own, Vanyo said.

Since CH2M Hill came on board last fall, a team of between eight and 10 of the firm’s employees have made roots in Fargo-Moorhead.

Leading that group is Tom Waters, the chief program manager for the Red River diversion project.

“The primary people we’ve brought here are senior people with a lot of experience,” Waters said, adding that CH2M Hill views the Red River diversion project as important and necessary. “It takes a large company to be able to tap that kind of expertise and get them to a distant location for a project.”

Waters himself came to Fargo-Moorhead after five years with CH2M Hill and, before that, more than 30 years of experience with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

His tenure at the corps was one of the reasons CH2M Hill appealed to the Diversion Authority when the firm was hired last fall, Vanyo said.

While at the corps, Waters worked on various water infrastructure projects in places like Iraq, New York City, Georgia, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Louisiana. When he left in fall 2007, Waters was the corps’ chief of planning and policy in Washington, D.C.

In that role, he also served on the corps’ Civil Works Review Board, which scrutinizes federal water projects for corps approval – a process the diversion project went through last year.

“Where my background comes in handy is understanding the corps process,” Waters said, “helping the authority take advantage of that and helping to bridge the partnership between them and the corps.”

Waters’ team in Fargo also includes several other CH2M Hill employees who have decades of experience on water projects.

For instance, senior program manager Jon Diebel previously worked for the Denver Water Department for 30 years, where he helped manage various water projects for the Mile High City.

Vanyo said it was CH2M Hill’s breadth of expertise and the specific experience of its staff that made the firm stand out during a selection process last fall.

CH2M Hill was among four firms that were invited to Fargo for interviews with the Diversion Authority in October.

“When CH2M Hill came in, they came in with their big guns and did a great job,” Vanyo said, adding that the personal expertise the firm offered “tipped the scales in their favor.”

Diversion Authority leaders expressed concerns last fall that without a project management firm, the project might fall increasingly behind schedule.

Eight months later, the project is trudging forward, and local officials are even weighing the possibility of expediting the local share of design work next year to keep ahead of limited federal funding.

Waters said CH2M Hill follows water projects nationwide and globally, and the Red River diversion project naturally came onto the firm’s radar.

“We’ve got a strategic plan to be engaged in specific projects like this and to try to make a difference that way,” Waters said.

Some of the water infrastructure projects CH2M Hill has worked on include: water supply plans in Iraq and the American Southwest, the expansion of the Panama Canal and recovery efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.

As of July 12, the Fargo-Moorhead Diversion Authority had more than $5.6 million in outstanding contracts for CH2M Hill’s services on the Red River diversion project.

Vanyo said one of the pluses of working with the firm is that they’re mindful of the authority’s budget.

“They’re doing a good job, and they’re also cognizant – which I think is good for their firm – of the dollars we have,” Vanyo said. “It isn’t just opening up a faucet.”

Along with CH2M Hill, other local consulting firms are helping to plan, coordinate and design the Red River diversion.

Fargo-based Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc., is providing engineering, communications and other consultation assistance for the Diversion Authority.

This spring, the Houston-Moore Group also joined the project team, winning the Diversion Authority’s lead contract to provide local design services.

The Houston-Moore Group is a joint venture between Houston Engineering and Moore Engineering, both of which are based in Fargo.

Waters said the local consultants offer a perspective on the project that CH2M Hill employees inherently don’t have but can learn from.

“We’re not from here; we’re people that have been brought in to help on an extremely personal, local problem,” Waters said. “We’re extremely impressed with the fact that these governments have pulled together to form an authority and have tapped these local engineering firms.”

“We’re just trying to harness ourselves to those things and help them get organized, stay organized, bring additional capabilities where we can and, overall, manage the effort,” Waters said.