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Kleen Energy Plant's General Contractor Has Solid Reputation, Past Controversy
O&G Industries, the general contractor for the Kleen Energy plant that exploded Sunday, is no stranger to sensitive projects, or to controversy, despite a strong reputation in the business.
The 87-year old politically connected construction firm based in Torrington has a long list of prominent clients, including the state of Connecticut. O&G was one of two builders who made improvements, for free or with extraordinarily favorable terms, to former Gov. John G. Rowland's Bantam Lake cottage in Litchfield County.
Founded in 1923 by Andrew Oneglia as a road-building business, O&G is now one of the state's biggest construction firms, led by one of his grandsons, David Oneglia — an investor in the $1 billion Kleen Energy project. O&G has built power plants before, none close to the size of Kleen Energy.
Some of O&G's 1,000 direct employees were at the plant Sunday at the time of the explosion, but none was hurt, company spokesman Dan Carey said.
In November, an O&G worker was killed on a company job at Quinnipiac University when a forklift ran over him. Despite that, the company appears to have a strong safety record.
And O&G is respected within the building trades community and among clients.
"O&G is a responsible contractor," said Eddie Reilly, president of the Greater Hartford and New Britain Building Trades Council, an umbrella organization that represents about 15,000 construction workers, including the pipe fitters killed in Sunday's explosion. "They're not a fly-by-night company. I put people to work for 'em."
O&G has managed construction of a terminal expansion at Bradley International Airport, UConn's downtown Waterbury campus and the Koeppel Community Sports Center in Hartford, among many other projects. It also oversaw the renovation of the Yale Bowl, has built office buildings, schools and hospitals, and has been hired for major road projects.
O&G has also built several power plants, including a 250-megawatt natural gas plant in Wallingford and UConn's 22-megawatt co-generation plant in Storrs, a much-smaller version of the 620-megawatt Middletown plant.
Boasting of its power plant experience on its website, the company says, "The difficulty and complexity of projects like these can snare an unwary contractor."
A month before the death at Quinnipiac, O&G agreed to pay a $5,000 fine to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration after the agency said it failed to protect workers from potential falls at a construction site in Watertown. OSHA's initial citation had sought $35,000 in fines.
In August, O&G was cited for not meeting standards for recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses at the Kleen Energy Plant, a minor violation, according to the federal agency. A $1,000 proposed fine was later dropped.A spokesman for OSHA said O&G doesn't have a large number of safety violations compared with other construction firms its size.
Jim Bradley, UConn's associate vice president for architectural and engineering services, who has worked with the firm on several projects, considers it "one of the best contractors in the region in terms of project organization, on-site management, safety."
It's not unusual for general contractors to seek power plant work, said Lee Langston, emeritus professor of mechanical engineering at UConn. He said many civil engineering and construction firms are attracted to power plant projects by the growing demand for them.
Still, a lawyer representing one person injured in Sunday's blast, which killed five and injured 27, has suggested that a punishing work schedule at the Kleen Energy plant may have compromised safety there.
Through Carey, O&G President David Oneglia declined an interview request.
"The No. 1 thing is to make sure that everyone's OK, not just physically, but emotionally," said Carey.
In a posting on its website, the company said, "We are providing continued support and assistance in the ongoing response and investigation. We know everyone joins us in extending our thoughts and prayers to the individuals and families that have been impacted by Sunday's tragic events."
In 1997, O&G customarily did multimillion-dollar projects, but agreed to do small jobs at Rowland's cottage, and gave the then-governor extremely favorable payment terms: It provided stone for a patio that year, allowing Rowland four years to pay the $2,200 bill, according to the findings of a legislative committee that investigated Rowland.
In 2003, O&G excavated and installed some pipes at the cottage property. This time Rowland paid the bill, $1,363, in four days, the committee's report said.
Revelations that Rowland accepted the work set in motion the events that ultimately led to his 2004 guilty plea on conspiracy charges and a prison sentence of a year and one day.
Between 1997 and 2001, O&G received more than $276 million from the state, the report said.
Courant staff writers Kenneth R. Gosselin and Jon Lender contributed to this report.