Muddy work: Area construction crews dig in against relentless wet weather

Muddy work: Area construction crews dig in against relentless wet weather

February 17th, 2016 by Alex Green in Business Around the Region

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/16/16. Marty Campbell hammers in spikes to hold a concrete form while preparing to pour a driveway at a new subdivision being developed off of Pitts Road in Hixson on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. Recent precipitation has saturated the ground and caused some area construction projects to be delayed.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Wet weather woes for construction

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› Today: Partly cloudy, High 51, Low 30

› Thursday: Sunny, High 57, Low 37

› Friday: Sunny, High 64, Low 48

› Saturday: 50 percent chance of rain, High 62, Low 48

› Sunday: 40 percent chance of rain, High 64, Low 49

› Monday: 80 percent chance of rain, High 54, Low 39

Source: WRCB-TV

Sure enough, sunshine and blue skies gave way Tuesday to the all-too-familiar gray clouds and cold rain that have become mainstays in Chattanooga this winter.

Since Jan. 1, the city has received 7.82 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. That's pretty close to typical.

But since Dec. 1, dreary skies have dumped 18.2 inches of rain on Chattanooga, as well a half inch of snow. And that's not so typical — in fact, it means the city is about six inches over its normal Dec. 1-Feb. 17 rainfall total.

Not that homebuilders like Nerren Pratt needed to be told it's been wetter than normal around here.

"The guys can't get finished," said Pratt, vice president of construction at Chattanooga-based Pratt Homebuilders, on Tuesday.

"You get to the point where you just have to do the best you can, and do whatever you can that day," he said. "Or, just work through the mud and do the best you can."

Bad weather has a ripple effect in the construction business, Pratt said.

When it rains, sleets or snows like it has lately, the site work and dirt guys can't do their jobs. Which means the concrete and masonry guys can't do their jobs. Which means the builders, plumbers, electricians, roofers, landscapers and painters can't either.

And then the project is behind — like the 21st Century Waterfront upgrade, which has been given a deadline extension because of bad weather, and the demolition of part of the U.S. 27 bridge at M.L. King Boulevard, which was scheduled for Monday night but was moved to tonight, weather permitting, because of rain.

"You get frustrated because you've made commitments to your customers to provide them a new home in a timely manner, and sometimes because of the weather, and the rain in particular, you cannot provide the home on time," Pratt said. "And it's out of my control."

Mike Higgins, owner of Mike Higgins Grading and Excavating, subcontracts for Pratt and said at this point, "we just grin and bear it and move on."

Higgins has been in the excavating and dirt work business for more than 20 years. On Tuesday, he said this winter has been one of the wettest and least forgiving in recent memory.

With all the rain the greater Chattanooga area has received in the last few months, the ground just hasn't had a chance to dry out. One or two days of dry, clear weather is nice, but it really takes three or four dry days to improve ground conditions.

"It's been a struggle to get anything done," Higgins said. "When it's raining like it was [Monday], there's not much you can really do physically to get anything done."

Higgins has started just working through some of the bad weather. Days lost mean money lost.

"We've actually learned to cope with it and go on and make it all happen," he said.

Pratt, Higgins and Rick Harris, owner of Big Whiskey Land and Cattle Co., all say preparation is the key to success this time of year, when it's expected they'll lose some days to bad weather.

And especially when those days start adding up.

"I'm going online and looking at a 10-day forecast, because I'm trying to predict what I'm going to try and get done," Harris said.

There's a constant recon operation in the construction business, he said. It's a lot of watching, predicting, planning and, hopefully, never reacting.

"I don't want to be reactive to it, partly since I have so many projects going now," Harris said.

Harris is developing the multi-home Skyfall project in East Brainerd, and is building homes in North Chattanooga on Tremont and Dartmouth streets, where the rain is hurting him the most right now.

At Skyfall, luck was on his side, and "as it turned out, our sequence just kind of fell right in with the rain," he said.

It was a preparation success.

But at Harris' downtown properties, "I've really suffered because of the rain," he said.

The good news for builders, though, is this weekend is shaping up to be warm and clear.

Paul Barys, chief meteorologist at WRCB, said things look dry and fairly warm today all the way through Monday, when the forecast looks like rain again.

The bad news for builders is the warm weekend weather means they'll probably be working instead of enjoying time off and the spring-like temperatures.

"Whenever it's dry, we work," Pratt said. "If that's on the weekend, that's when we've got to work."

It's like making hay in the summer, he said.

"When it's dry, you've go to go."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.