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The Alexandria Project

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. Read More...