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James "Jim" Rooney
James Rooney

James "Jim" Rooney was interviewed on December 21, 2006 by Marie Mitchell at the offices of R & M Consultants in Anchorage, Alaska. In this interview, Jim talks about his involvement with the design and construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) and the North Slope Haul Road (Dalton Highway). He discusses the route selection, evaluation of soils, challenges of dealing with frozen soils and permafrost, coordination between his consulting firm, R&M Consulting, Alyeska Pipeline Company, and the State of Alaska, and project engineering and construction challenges. He also talks about the impact of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on the pipeline project, the design of the Yukon River Bridge, and the many people who worked on the large scale pipeline and road project.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-16

Project: Dalton Highway
Date of Interview: Dec 21, 2006
Narrator(s): James W. "Jim" Rooney
Interviewer(s): Marie Mitchell
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal background and coming to Alaska

2) Learning about the issues and technical concerns with frozen ground

3) Being asked to work as a consultant on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline project

4) Role of a civil engineer

5) Life in Alaska in 1969, and route evaluation for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline

6) Evaluating soil conditions and determining pipeline route

7) Pipeline construction concerns to be considered

8) Existing Hickel Highway route, and finding staff to work on the pipeline project

9) Working as a consultant on pipeline route studies and road design and construction

10) Writing reports, the challenges of ordering supplies like culverts, and completing the first section of the Haul Road

11) Availability of material for road construction, and construction of the Hess Creek Bridge

12) Challenges of the route studies, design and construction of the pipeline and road, use of new technology, and injunction against the pipeline

13) Technical issues with the design and construction of the Haul Road

14) Collaborating with Alyeska, other consulting firms, and government agencies

15) Impact of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on the pipeline and Haul Road projects

16) Short timeframe of the project

17) Team involved with the design stages for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Haul Road

18) Role of R & M Consultants

19) Design and construction of the Yukon River Bridge

20) Working with Ralph Migliaccio

21) Recruiting Jim Wellman and Malcolm Menzies to work on the Haul Road design project and then almost not getting approval for the contract

22) Heroes and frustrations of such a big project

23) End of R & M Consultants, and other projects he worked on

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Section 1: James Rooney was born in Michigan, and raised in the Detroit area. He attended Wayne State University for his undergraduate and graduate degrees. Rooney's undergraduate degree is in civil engineering, with his masters in geotechnical engineering. He was offered a position with the Alaska State Highway Department in 1963. He moved his immediate family from Michigan to Juneau, where he worked for nearly two years. After the earthquake hit Valdez in 1964, he was relocated there for reconstruction work where he was put in charge of the design and material evaluation efforts and participated in the reconstruction of roads and bridges. He quickly became familiar with the frozen ground issues in the northern region.
birthplace -- Michigan\ childhood -- Detroit area\ Michigan State University -- undergraduate degree\ graduate degrees\ undergraduate degree -- civil engineering\ masters degree -- geotechnical engineering\ Alaska State Highway Department -- employed with\ year -- 1963\ Juneau, Alaska -- relocation\ 1964 Earthquake -- Valdez, Alaska\ Valdez -- relocation\ reconstruction work\ design and material efforts -- responsible for\ northern region -- frozen ground\ frozen ground -- challenges with|

Section 2: Rooney was transferred to the State Materials Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in late 1965 and worked as the State Soils Engineer in Fairbanks and on various projects around the state. This gave him exposure to the issues and technical concerns with the frozen ground that is common in Alaska. In late 1966, he returned to Michigan to finish his graduate program.
job -- soils engineer\ Fairbanks, Alaska\ frozen ground -- technical concerns\ Michigan -- relocated to\ graduate school|

Section 3: While completing his graduate program, he worked for Soil Testing Services, Inc. in Iowa City, Iowa. Soon after, he received a call from Ralph Migliaccio, who was involved with the early studies for the oil pipeline in the Prudhoe Bay area. Migliaccio needed consultant support. Rooney relocated to Alaska, but did not realize how large and significant the TAPS project would become.
Iowa City -- relocated to\ Migliaccio, Ralph -- involved with\ oil pipeline -- Prudhoe Bay\ Migliaccio, Ralph -- contacted Rooney\ Rooney, James -- consultant\ Alaska -- relocated to\ TAPS project -- awareness of|

Section 4: Civil engineering involves buildings, structures, and infrastructures. The architects do the conceptual work for buildings. Civil engineers do background work involving the development of the site -- site utilities, roads, airports, utilities, sewers, and water. Geotechnical engineers deal with the subsurface, evaluation of soils for foundations and materials.
civil engineering -- description of\ architects -- conceptual\ civil engineers -- development\ sites -- types of\ utilities\ roads\ roadway\ airport\ utilities\ sewers\ water systems\ geotechnical engineers -- subsurface\ soil evaluation -- foundations\ materials -- utilization|

Section 5: Rooney returned to Alaska in March 1969. The construction activity in Alaska was intense. This also increased flight activity carrying supplies, particularly from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. The Fairbanks community was more active. In 1969, finding housing in Fairbanks was impossible. There was a housing shortage. His family camped in a rental house without furniture for 3 months. As soon as he arrived in Fairbanks, he was immediately involved with route studies for TAPS, consulting directly with Alyeska. Rooney participated in the route evaluation from Livengood to Prudhoe Bay. He also participated in the evaluation of the two alternate pipeline routes -- Livengood through Atigun Pass and Livengood through Anaktuvuk Pass. He was quickly in the field with drill rigs and helicopter support, and traveled along these routes to do preliminary studies and to assist in initial route evaluation that was required to be completed by the summer of 1969.
Alaska -- relocation\ year -- March 1969\ oil -- discovery of\ year -- 1968\ Alaska -- construction activity\ construction -- reasons for\ oil discovery\ Fairbanks -- effected by\ housing -- shortage\ TAPS -- consultant for\ route -- studies\ Alyeska -- involved with\ R&M Consulting, Inc -- formation of\ partners -- Rooney, James\ Migliaccio, Ralph\ route -- evaluation of\ Livengood through Atigun Pass\ Livengood through Anaktuvuk Pass\ preliminary studies -- initial route evaluation\ completion date -- summer of 1969|

Section 6: He was involved with evaluation of subsurface soil conditions for potential pipeline burial. The major concerns were ground deformation relating to massive ice and any issue associated with thawing of frozen ground. The emphasis was to look for stable materials -- bedrock, river gravels that are thaw stable for the pipeline. Essentially, the route for the pipeline and the Haul Road had to be within the same alignment. After evaluations, the Atigun Pass route was selected instead of a route through Anaktuvuk Pass.
subsurface soil conditions -- evaluation of\ evaluation -- pipeline burial\ concerns -- major\ massive ice\ frozen ground\ stable materials -- need for\ materials -- bedrock\ river gravels\ thaw stable -- pipeline requirements\ Haul Road -- pipeline route\ Anaktuvuk Pass -- problems with\ Atigun Pass -- selection of|

Section 7: There were concerns on how the pipeline would be constructed -- soil/pipe interaction, influence of thawing frozen ground and degradation of permafrost. The initial route studies did not address these concerns; oil companies just wanted a route (a buried pipeline route). As the issues of frozen ground and instability were addressed, the route became more complex in terms of identifying route conditions and route location. TAPS needed to establish a criterion for pipeline design in arctic regions and to determine buried versus elevated pipeline. The initial year was difficult, because people did not appreciate the above ground concept. R & M Consultants had a lot of dialogue with Alyeska. The firm was tagged with the nickname of "reroute and move", due in part to finding conditions not suitable for buried pipeline. R & M finished initial field studies in June. Alyeska needed a road constructed from Livengood to Yukon River.
pipeline -- construction concerns\ soil interaction\ influence of thaw\ frozen ground\ degradation\ initial route studies -- changes in\ criterion -- pipeline design\ arctic regions\ burial pipeline -- elevated pipeline\ TAPS -- difficulties with\ concepts\ R & M Consultants -- nickname "reroute and move"\ route studies -- completion of\ road construction -- immediate\ route -- Livengood to Yukon River|

Section 8: The existing Elliott Highway extended west from Livengood to Manley Hot Springs. There was a winter ice road (Hickel Highway) that went from Livengood to the Yukon River, then on to Bettles and Anaktuvuk Pass and into Sagwon. R & M contacted former Alaska State Department Highway staff for possible employment on the TAPS project efforts.
winter ice road (Hickel Highway) -- routed\ Livengood\ Yukon River\ Stevens Village\ Bettles\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Sagwon\ Hickel Highway -- initial 56 miles for Haul Road\ first section\ Haul Road -- first section\ Livengood to Yukon River\ R&M Consultants -- contractor\ Haul Road -- design work\ first section\ year -- 1969\ section -- rerouted\ Stevens Village -- bypassed\ Alaska State Department Highway -- resigned from|

Section 9: R & M Consultants first conducted route studies for the pipeline. Then, they were retained to design the first segment of the Haul Road. R & M Consultants worked with Burgess Construction, who was retained by Alyeska. Before Burgess started field construction, R & M Consultants set up a temporary tent camp near Livengood. The tent camp was not adequate, and was eventually shut down by the state. A tent camp usually is utilized in a very remote location with no road access and no amenities. The tent camp was set up for a one month period, in order to get the route planning started before construction equipment arrived, and before a permanent camp could be constructed. In July 1969, the goal was to have a road constructed from Livengood to the Yukon River in order to have winter access. There were challenges in finding stable material. One of the criteria was that the pipeline had the prime location , and the Haul Road had to be near the pipeline. The criteria for the Haul Road changed, due to the availability of materials. Originally, Alyeska wanted this road to be strictly a haul road to transport oil supplies. Negotiations between Alyeska and the Alaska State Highway Department changed the criteria, from a haul road to a secondary road. These negotiations occurred while R & M Consultants was out in the field, which meant the design of the Haul Road had to be revised.
R & M Consultants -- pipeline route studies\ Haul Road -- design first section\ Livengood to Yukon River\ Burgess Construction -- worked with\ contractor\ tent camp -- location\ tent camp -- description of\ story of\ not adequate\ Haul Road -- first section\ purpose of\ construction -- timeline\ year -- July 1969\ Haul Road -- route\ route -- challenges with\ stable material -- availability of\ pipeline -- primary location preferences\ Haul Road -- pipeline route\ Haul Road -- original goal\ winter haul road\ Haul Road -- changes with\ secondary highway\ R & M Consultants -- redesign Haul Road|

Section 10: Written materials for the project were generated during the route study. R & M made preliminary assumptions regarding drainage issues -- approximate lengths and size for culverts and the logistics for placing culverts. Rooney recalls the challenges in placing orders for culverts. When he contacted a company for an order, they told him they were too busy. Once R & M Consultants described the order, the company immediately agreed they could place the order. It was a large order that had to be delivered in a short period. By the Fall, 60% of the road section was complete, with access provided to the Yukon River where the state's bridge construction activities could begin.
route study -- documentation\ drainage issues\ culverts\ culverts -- ordering\ difficulties with\ materials -- story of\ order -- large shipment\ first section -- complete\ year -- Fall 1969\ Yukon River Bridge -- under construction|

Section 11: Rooney notes the difficulty in finding enough material sources required for the project (rock, gravel, and even frozen gravel) and in getting the right type of equipment. He describes the material sources thawing during the excavation phase north of the Hess Creek Bridge, because the access route was blocked. The Hess Creek Bridge created several problems because it was constructed for the TAPS project and not to secondary road standards.
material sources -- availability of\ requirements\ types of\ equipment -- issues with\ Hess Creek Bridge -- excavation phase\ material sources -- thawing\ access route -- blocked\ Hess Creek Bridge -- problems with|

Section 12: During the TAPS route study, Rooney had to work with mapping information created from the United States Geological Survey. Doing preliminary studies and survey was difficult because the USGS maps were not sufficiently accurate to scale, and GPS was not in place. During this period, there were new technologies introduced, learning curves, issues associated with staffing, and limited electronic communications. Another challenge was being heavily involved with the pipeline route studies while designing and building the Livengood to Yukon River haul road section. In winter 1969, Alyeska suggested R & M Consultants focus on the pipeline route. Another contractor was retained to continue with the Haul Road route, north from the Yukon River. About that time, the entire TAPS project was halted due to environmental and Alaskan Native claim issues, from 1969 into the 1970s. During this time, Rooney continued field geo-tech studies for the pipeline route.
TAPS -- route study\ mapping -- United States Geological Survey (USGS)\ USGS maps -- inaccurate to scale\ GPS -- not invented\ route study -- challenges\ multi-tasking -- route studies\ pipeline route\ first road section\ Alyeska -- R & M Consultants\ contract -- changes with\ R & M Consultants focus -- pipeline route\ year -- Winter 1969\ Haul Road route -- north of the Yukon River\ contractor -- new selection of\ TAPS project -- halted\ environmental issues\ Alaskan Native claim issues\ year -- 1969 into 1974|

Section 13: There were many technical issues with the Haul Road, particularly when it was upgraded to a secondary highway. To achieve the grades required for a secondary highway, the grades required massive ice cuts. There was not much experience from the Alaska State Highway Department in dealing with massive ice cut sections. R & M decided on a cut slope design process, and thirty years later it has worked reasonably well.
Haul Road -- changes in\ Haul Road -- secondary highway\ grades -- requirements of\ issues -- massive ice cuts\ Alaska State Highway Department -- not familiar with\ massive ice cuts\ Rooney, James -- solution to|

Section 14: R&M Consultants\ staff -- number of\ route study -- TAPS\ team\ staff -- issues\ consulting groups -- collaborating with\ Alyeska\ organizations -- number of\ pipeline -- design\ terminal -- development\ Valdez\ Alyeska -- design division\ Alyeska -- construction division\ consultants -- types of\ consultants -- environmental\ hydrologists\ collaboration\ people -- interaction with\ geotechnical\ government -- overview by\ meetings\ government agencies -- working with\ questions\ issues\ understanding\ dialogue\ frustration\ questions -- unanswered\ project -- slow down\ evaluation\ design -- review of\ agencies -- respond to|

Section 15:The Native land claims issue halted the project. This impacted people who had speculated on the timeline of the project. Firms were laying people off due to this delay from 1970 to 1973. There were concerns about staffing and scheduling. The cost of the TAPS project was escalating. During the delay, R & M Consultants was not significantly impacted. The firm opened an office in Anchorage while continuing the preliminary studies of the pipeline route evaluation, and worked on other projects. When TAPS restarted, R & M Consultants doubled in size.
injunction -- TAPS\ injunction -- reasons for\ effect of\ contractors -- laid off\ companies -- bankrupcy\ Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act -- halted TAPS\ TAPS project -- escalating costs\ R & M Consultants -- not impacted\ preliminary pipeline studies -- continuation of|

Section 16: This was a unique project due to the urgent need to get the pipeline and Haul Road completed (due to the energy needs at that time). R & M had to complete geotechnical studies of the initial pipeline route in one year, and completed the design of access to the Yukon River in six months.
TAPS project -- unique\ timeline -- narrow\ TAPS project -- largest ever\ Rooney, James -- designer\ responsible for\ pipeline route -- design\ timeline -- one year\ Haul Road -- first section\ route -- Livengood to Yukon River\ timeline -- six months|

Section 17: Rooney describes the team involved with the design stages for the TAPS and Haul Road.
team members\ Alyeska\ support\ difficulties -- understanding\ job -- transfer\ Swanson Oil Field -- development\ ARCO\ TAPS\ employees\ Anderson, Ben\ Bauer, Nate\ Haul Road\ R&M Consultants\ people -- quality of\ competitors -- relationship with\ Michael Baker Group\ Pipeline Technologists\ Migliaccio, Ralph\ friendship\ opportunities\ cancer -- death\ Migliaccio, Ralph -- influence of\ group -- leadership\ organization -- functioning\ project -- contributors\ Wellman, Jim\ Menzies, Malcom\ retirement\ Department of Transportation - Southeast District\ McMullen, Bill\ Northwest Gas Pipeline Project|

Section 18: For the initial 56-mile section of the Haul Road, R & M participated in the quality control and overall review of the project's progress and assisted in the construction management phase. During the subsequent construction on the Haul Road, they participated in technical support, materials testing, and compliance quality issues. Mostly R&M efforts shifted to the pipeline construction zone, performing design services and support for the construction work pad and pipeline (drainage, structure, and materials).
Haul Road -- initial 56-mile section\ Rooney, James -- responsible for\ quality control\ project progress\ construction management\ Haul Road -- northern route\ Rooney, James -- responsible for\ overview\ technical support\ materials testing\ compliance quality issues\ R&M -- responsible for\ pipeline construction zone\ design services\ work pad\ pipeline|

Section 19: The design for the Yukon River Bridge was completed by Dennis Nottingham, Bill Gute, and Bruce Campbell. They had their own challenges with Alyeska to get the bridge constructed on a tight schedule. It was a significant accomplishment. The team encountered difficult subsurface conditions. The State was responsible for the geo-tech studies and design for the bridge crossing.
Yukon River Bridge -- designer\ Nottingham, Dennis\ Gute, Bill\ Campbell, Bruce\ Yukon River Bridge -- timeline\ tight schedule\ accomplishment -- significant\ challenges with\ Alaska State Highway Department -- responsible for\ geo-tech studies\ bridge design\ Baker, Michael -- construction\ responsible for -- (Haul Road) north to Prudhoe|

Section 20: His business partner, Ralph Migliaccio, when doing the initial pipeline route studies and the first phase of the haul road made a comment to Rooney, "This is an extremely unique situation and we will never see something like this again in our lives". This was a special time to be involved in this project. R&M had specific expertise, background, and knowledge to contribute toward this project. The company was fortunate to be involved.
Migliaccio, Ralph -- business partner\ TAPS project -- positive experience\ impressions of\ R&M -- TAPS and Haul Road accomplishments\ historic|

Section 21: Rooney describes the touching moment when he notified his friends about becoming part of the TAPS project.
Alyeska\ contract\ Haul Road -- design\ agreement -- verbal\ Wellman, Jim\ Menzies, Malcolm\ recruitment\ equipment -- purchase of\ contract -- reconsideration\ experience -- lack of\ survey\ project -- uncertainty\ project -- final approval\ project team\ guilt\ memories|

Section 22: TAPS was a huge project. There were many people involved. The design portion was small in comparison to the construction, yet contractors receive all the credit. The engineers and designers are the unsung heroes. Designers do not receive due credit. Designers get frustrated when a construction contractor changes the design without consulting the designers. This may create problems, and many times problems would have been resolved if contractors consulted with the designers. Interactions between the agencies (the government entities) were sometimes faulty, but overall the project had a positive outcome.
TAPS -- major project\ recruitment -- numerous contractors\ TAPS -- design stage\ design team -- small recruitment\ construction team -- larger recruitment\ construction team -- credit of\ engineers and designers -- unsung heroes\ construction crew -- conflict with\ public agency -- interactions\ TAPS -- positive outcome|

Section 23: After the design and construction of the Haul Road section and the route study for the pipeline, Ralph Migliaccio passed away and the remaining R&M principals split up the company. They created three R&M entities. Jim Wellman has R & M Engineering Consultants in Fairbanks. Malcolm Menzies had R & M Engineering in Juneau. Jim Rooney had R & M Consultants in Anchorage. All are involved with general civil programs and civil engineering, surveying, and geotechnical engineering. Rooney has worked on hydro projects, hatcheries, and just about any civil engineering task in Alaska. Most work from the Anchorage office is within the public sector, due to the company's background in working with public agencies. Rooney retired from R & M Consultants in 2006.
TAPS -- completion of\ Migliaccio, Ralph -- death\ R&M -- splitting of\ R & M Engineering Consultant\ R & M Engineering\ R & M Consultants\ Menzie, Malcolm\ R&M -- involved with\ general civil programs\ civil engineering\ surveying\ geotechnical engineering\ projects -- involved with\ types of\ hydro projects\ hatcheries\ civil engineering|