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O.C. Builders Team Up on African Venture : Expansion: Birtcher and Arciero Bros. form a company for the Liberian project. The $300-million job is the first overseas for both.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move to diversify operations and expand abroad, two Orange County commercial and industrial builders will team up to construct an earthen dam and extend hydroelectric services in Liberia.

Birtcher, a Laguna Niguel builder, and Arciero Brothers Inc., the construction arm of Arciero Cos. of Anaheim, said construction of the $300-million African project is scheduled to begin in November.

It is the first overseas project for both companies, which have formed a new company--Arciero-Birtcher International Inc.--for the venture, said Philip Arciero Sr., president of Arciero Bros.

The contract, to be completed by 1996, includes building a dam 130 miles northeast of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital; raising the Mt. Coffee hydroelectric plant’s capacity by 40%, to 104 megawatts; and installing 400 miles of electrical transmission lines from the Mt. Coffee plant to mostly agricultural areas in the country.

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The African Development & Financing Corp., an investment concern in Monrovia, arranged to finance the project through a Swiss banking consortium. The funds are to be released within 90 days.

Arciero said the project hinges on the West African nation’s political stability and on Birtcher’s ability to obtain political risk insurance from the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the federal agency in Washington that insures U.S. investments in developing nations.

Although the two companies have no experience in building dams or hydroelectric plants, they will hire experts from other companies to join Arciero-Birtcher, said Andrew Youngquist, president of Birtcher Construction, the construction arm of Birtcher.

“Building a dam is no different from constructing a high-rise building,” Arciero said.

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Birtcher officials said the new company plans to bid on other overseas projects in West Africa and elsewhere.

But finding U.S. engineers for the project might be difficult. Arciero-Birtcher’s pact with the Liberian government comes at a time when the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid visiting Liberia because of renewed clashes between government and rebel forces. “Since the advisory was issued April 25, a number of Americans have already left Liberia,” a State Department official said Wednesday.

“It is getting very difficult to do business in Liberia,” said Maurice Johnson, OPIC’s expert on Liberia. Even if the project is far from the battlefield, “the rebels have been blocking off roads and communication lines,” he said.

He said OPIC is providing coverage to three projects in Liberia.

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Founded more than 50 years ago, Birtcher is a large developer of commercial, industrial and retail properties.


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