The Alexandria Project

In 1979, Les Wierson, ever alert for international projects, became aware of a major sewerage project in Alexandria, Egypt. Under the auspices of USAID, the Boston consulting firm of Camp, Dresser and McKee had studied the sewerage problems of Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city. Their solution, involving primary sewage treatment and a deep water ocean outfall was rejected by the Egyptian Ministry Alexandria General Organization for Sanitary Drainage (AGOSD) and thus an opportunity existed for other US based engineering firms to assess the problem. To this end, a Joint Venture consisting of CH2M HILL, Metcalf and Eddy and two Egyptian firms was formed. The “terms of reference” for the project required voluminous representations of proposed manpower with each classification of labor (of which there were several, both Egyptian and Ex-Patriots) being listed by name, rank, labor hours and pay grade being shown as line items. Sid Lasswell, John Filbert, Gene Suhr and Dale Cannon crafted the overall proposal with considerable interference on the part of Dr. Sami Abdel-Kawi who kept insisting that more Egyptian labor and less Ex-Pat labor was needed in order to win the project for the Joint Venture.

Finally a team was assembled utilizing engineers from all of the venture parties. Les Wierson agreed to serve as the initial Project Director, and the Joint Venture was selected to begin negotiations with USAID and AGOSD in January of 1980. The negotiating team consisted of Wierson, Mike Fisher, and Suhr. Negotiations were successful and the team began work that summer on a massive effort culminating in the design and construction of sanitary sewers for the entire city as well as a secondary treatment plant which initially discharged treated wastewater into a large, heavily polluted body of water, Lake Maryut, west of Alexandria. The initial CH2M HILL work force included Wierson, Suhr, and Filbert. Liz Crummer, Bob Beckley, Bob Gladden and numerous others. For most of the crew, the Alexandria Project was an eye-opening experience in working under fairly primitive conditions in a third world country. For the first several months, the office building housing the staff did not have any glazing in the window openings or any heat. There were no telephones and any communication with the USA was by telex (using a machine at a local hotel) or by parcel delivery by DHL. In spite of the many hardships, moral was extremely high and the project’s many successful years served to help CH2M HILL become recognized as player to be reckoned with in the international marketplace.

An interesting “sidebar” to the Alexandria Project concerns the villa that was acquired to serve as temporary housing and social center for the project staff. During the final days of the project negotiations in Egypt, Wierson decided that the AGOSD was going to accept our proposal and that a housing center would be required. He detailed Suhr to investigate what might be available. Suhr, working with an Egyptian agent, by chance stumbled upon a seven-bedroom villa with large parlors and dining room that was under lease to Camp, Dresser and McKee. Since their contract was not likely to be renewed, they had not yet renewed their lease, and utilizing his “cache” of US dollar travelers checks, Suhr was able to consummate an earnest money agreement for the lease of the villa. Interestingly, the earnest money agreement for the lease was written in Arabic on a grease-stained sheet of paper torn from a children’s tablet. That was Suhr’s only receipt for his $2200 and caused some consternation in the accounting office when it was duly attached to his expense account. The overall result was a great success, as the villa provided a most welcome home away from home for project staff.

CH2M HILL’s Work with USAID in Egypt: An Historical Perspective

USAID in Alexandria Egypt

Almost a year after mass protests erupted in Egypt, the makeup of the new government is still to be determined. Despite political confusion, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) work in Egypt continues in its attempt to assist the government of Egypt in providing reliable water and sanitation services in Cairo and Alexandria. USAID has invested nearly $4.4 billion in potable water and sanitation in Egypt since 1979, and CH2M HILL has been involved since the beginning.

“CH2M HILL’s leadership in the water and sewage sectors over 30 years has provided great benefit to the Egyptian people,” shares Mike Gould/RIC. The work has evolved from design and construction management to utility institutional strengthening, and finally on to water sector policy reform, including helping to establish a water and wastewater holding company.

Infrastructure Projects

CH2M HILL’s work on infrastructure projects began in 1981. The first company project in Egypt was conducted under the USAID-funded Alexandria Wastewater Facilities Improvement and Expansion Program. This project, an $80-million joint venture with Metcalf & Eddy, was implemented over a 14-year period. Infrastructure improvements included 130 miles of sewer pipe, six major pumping stations, two state-of-the-art treatment plants, and construction of a sludge disposal facility.

In the late 1980s, CH2M HILL began providing master planning, preliminary and final design services, and construction management services for the Greater Cairo Water Authority. The regional water system Master Plan provided construction management services to priority areas, resulting in the construction of 31 miles of transmission and distribution pipe lines, two pump stations, and four reservoirs.

Institutional Strengthening Services

As the USAID water sector work developed in Egypt, USAID staff realized that infrastructure development alone was not sufficient. Utility institutional strengthening services were required to maximize USAID investment in infrastructure.

Mike Gould commented, “When providing institutional strengthening services, we try to avoid fancy technology using imported equipment that will need to be periodically upgraded. We prefer to use resources that are available in the home country.”

In 1992, CH2M HILL began providing institutional strengthening services to the Cairo General Organization for Sanitary Drainage (CGOSD) to improve managerial, organizational, technical, training, and administrative systems. An important feature of this program was the procurement, customization, and implementation of a new computerized management information system to improve the efficiency and reliability of data processing and retrieval. In conjunction with this effort, CH2M HILL developed financial systems to support the CGOSD transition from government authority to an economic utility which was expected to meet cost recovery objectives.

Starting in 1998, CH2M HILL provided technical assistance to the Alexandria General Organization for Sanitary Drainage (AGOSD). The CH2M HILL team provided AGOSD with improved corporate and operation and maintenance planning, financial control systems, a fully operating management information system, and increased staff capability.

Water Sector Reform

CH2M HILL’s work on USAID projects continued into the new millennium as USAID emphasized water sector reform. In 2003 and 2005, CH2M HILL signed contracts with USAID/Egypt for the third and fourth phases of the USAID water sector reform effort. These projects involved the provision of technical assistance to the Ministry of Housing, Utilities, and Urban Development (MHUUD), for the development and implementation of a comprehensive water and wastewater sector reform program. The intention was to consolidate and regulate the water and wastewater sector through provision of clear leadership and regulation for water and wastewater utilities. CH2M HILL assisted MHUUD in forming a water and wastewater holding company, transforming existing utilities into holding company subsidiaries under local Egyptian law, and establishing and providing technical assistance to a water sector regulator, the Egyptian Water Regulatory Authority (EWRA)

In September 2006, the CH2M HILL sector reform contract was modified. The budget was doubled and new tasks were added to the project scope, including developing a web-based program management system with an Arabic interface that allows MHUUD agency staff to simultaneously track more than 2,500 infrastructure construction projects.

Ongoing Work

Most recently, CH2M HILL joined with Chemonics International on the USAID-financed Water Policy and Regulatory Reform Project (WPRR).The WPRR provides technical services and related resources to the EWRA and MHUUD. The goal is to develop water and wastewater policies and strengthen the legal and regulatory framework. To achieve these objectives, the WPRR is providing technical expertise and assistance in policy and legal reform, regulatory reform, development of a water and wastewater operator certification program, public-private partnership transaction support, capital investment planning, and program management.

CH2M HILL and USAID are working hard to ensure local Egyptian officials fully develop the systems they’ve provided. As reported by David Osgood/CAI, project manager on four USAID-funded institutional development projects in Egypt, “One of the biggest worries is that when the project ends and we leave, nobody will continue to use and develop the systems in which USAID has invested billions of dollars. Skills and knowledge are easy to develop, but motivation has to be developed, too.”

Since the beginning of USAID assistance, Egyptian involvement has improved significantly. Osgood adds, “When I first started 11 or 12 years ago, it was clear that USAID had money, but received very little local input on how to spend it. As a result, the Egyptians were not very interested in the work USAID was doing. In the last few years, ministry officials have had very definitive ideas about what needs to be done. Their clear ideas have strengthened the partnership, and increased local involvement in USAID work.”

Public-private partnership activity has slowed since the recent political and social revolution, but is expected to pick back up with the formation of a new government. Gould commented, “I was just in Egypt for 3 weeks in October, and from what you can see, day-to-day life is the same as it was pre-revolution. However, when you talk to the Egyptians, their attitudes have changed. They’re much more concerned about the future and politics.”

Before the revolution, USAID announced it would be phasing out of its work in the water sector. However, “All indications are that USAID will continue to support Egypt due to its geopolitical importance, ” reported Osgood, who has been living and working in Egypt for more than 20 years.

CH2M HILL People in Egypt

Over the past 30 years, several hundred CH2M HILL employees have lived and worked in Egypt on our long succession of USAID water projects. Many of our veterans launched their international careers in the 1980s on the Alexandria Wastewater Project. Some of those who are still with us today include: Les Wierson (ret), who served as our first project manager, Gene Suhr (ret), John Filbert (ret), Ken Bielman (ret), Jim Schwing/SLC, Doug Griffes/DEN, Terry Krause/DOH, Gary Weil/BSS, Teny Mittal/NJO and Larry Belken/PTY.

During the early 1990s the emphasis shifted to Cairo, where Teny Mittal/NJO managed the Cairo Water Project, with the support of Jim Griffiths/CVO, Rick Robertson/PTY, Kurt Hellerman/MKE, Nejib Chaouch/RYD, Skip Martin/ANV, and Larry Belken/PTY. We then started the first of our institutional development projects with the Cairo wastewater project, managed by Doug Griffes/DEN, with Pankaj Patel/CAI, Rock Raiford/RCH, Gary Shreve/SCO, Duayne Davis/OCS, and Nejib Chaouch/RYD.

Since the latter 1990s our emphasis has remained on institutional development and national sector reform, with a succession of projects in Alexandria and Cairo, managed by David Osgood/CAI. Other key staff members who have contributed during this period include Pankaj Patel/CAI, Nejib Chaouch/RYD, and Khaled Al-Hasan/CAI.

On a sad note, Otto Vydra (ret) passed away in early December 2011. Otto was one of our original leaders in Egypt, overseeing the Alexandria Wastewater Program through some of its challenging years, and then helping us to establish our presence in Cairo in the 1990s.