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Rapid contract

(AP) -- Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. said Tuesday that it received a contract worth up to $20 million to provide San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit with on-call construction management services.

Under the contract, the Pasadena-based engineering and construction services firm will provide a variety of construction management services for five years; including engineering and inspection services, constructability and hazard analysis, material testing, noise and vibration monitoring, and cost and schedule management.

Also on Tuesday, Jacobs got a contract from Santos GLNG in Australia to help with its coal seam gas field development.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but Jacobs (NYSE: JEC) said it runs for three and a half years, with an option for a one-year extension.

The project is a multi-billion dollar coal seam gas-to-liquefied-natural-gas development in Queensland, Australia.

It's being undertaken by GLNG Operations, a joint venture of Australian natural gas producer Santos and the energy companies Petronas, Total and Kogas, Jacobs said.

Montana conservation

(AP) -- Montana wildlife commissioners approved the final piece of a $7.8 million ranch purchase along the Milk River near the Canadian border on Monday, despite objections from neighboring landowners and some lawmakers.

On a 4 to 1 vote, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commissioners agreed to pay $4.7 million for 2,992 acres of river bottom and other land on the Milk River Ranch in order to expand recreational opportunities.

The state earlier agreed to pay $1.1 million for an additional 1,513 acres of the ranch, through the Land Board chaired by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

It's paying $2 million more for rights to archaeological and paleontological artifacts on the site, through the Montana Board of Regents.

Schweitzer on Monday dismissed complaints the price was too high.

He said the deal gives the state control of a property that has great value as a wildlife corridor, a dinosaur research site and a location with spiritual significance for several American Indian tribes.

Neighboring landowners and others said the ranch's hunting and fishing opportunities had been overstated.

WTC spire

(AP) -- The crowning spire of the World Trade Center's tallest building is making its way to New York City.

A barge headed across New York Harbor from New Jersey's Port Newark on Tuesday.

It held nine pieces of the steel spire that will top One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, workers on the 104-story skyscraper were busy pouring concrete that will hold the 408-foot spire.

The trade center's director of construction, Steven Plate, said the spire marks a post 9/11 milestone that signifies New York City is “better than ever.”

The pieces each weigh 70 tons.

The spire is expected to rise into the Manhattan sky by spring.

Plate said the 1,776-foot high-rise -- symbolizing America's freedom -- will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

NJ housing

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The Christie administration has announced a new plan to expand temporary and permanent housing for the thousands of New Jersey residents displaced by Superstorm Sandy.

The plan includes making even greater use of Fort Monmouth, the former Army post.

The plan, released Monday evening, calls for the state to renovate existing housing at Fort Monmouth and install temporary structures there.

Forty-five units had been under renovation for the displaced at the former post.

The Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority is moving to purchase as many as 375 units on the base that will be turned into permanent housing.

Modular ranch-style homes will also be placed on existing concrete slabs there that contain utility hookups, officials said.

“Among our top priorities is to ensure that everyone who has been displaced by Hurricane Sandy can find temporary housing that meet their needs in one available form or another, so they can begin to recover from this major disaster,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement.

The state is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Blackstone hotels

(Bloomberg) -- Blackstone Group LP took control of 13 hotels from Eagle Hospitality Properties Trust Inc. after the lodging company failed to find buyers for the portfolio and pay off debt held by the private-equity firm.

Eagle was unable to sell the properties at a price that would enable it to repay the debt, the company said Tuesday.

An affiliate of Blackstone Real Estate Partners VII took ownership of substantially all of Eagle's assets after Monday’s deadline for a sale.

Blackstone (NYSE: BX), based in New York, has been expanding its hotel investments, with deals ranging from lower-priced chains to upscale properties.

It purchased the Motel 6 chain for about $1.9 billion earlier this year, adding to investments such as Hilton Worldwide Inc. and a stake in Extended Stay America Inc.

Last month, it agreed to a $1.2 billion deal for Apple REIT Six Inc., a real estate investment trust focused on hotels.

The properties include Embassy Suites hotels near the airports in Boston, Denver and Tampa, Fla.; the Hyatt Regency in Rochester, N.Y.; and the Cincinnati Landmark Marriott, according to the September statement.

Asia-Pacific RE

(Bloomberg) -- Demand for real estate in the Asia-Pacific region will increase next year as economies get stronger and institutional investors diversify their portfolios, LaSalle Investment Management Inc. said.

Bolstered by low interest rates and fiscal measures, economic growth may strengthen next year in Asia and lead to a gradual pick-up in investment decisions, LaSalle said.

Real estate values may be boosted by an abrupt economic recovery in China, according to the investment management company, which has $47 billion assets under management.

“The demand for core opportunities has not diminished throughout the past few years, and it is only projected to grow as Asian pension, insurance and sovereign wealth funds expand their allocations to real estate,” Paul Guest, Asian strategist with LaSalle, said.

Property prices may gain as higher public spending and younger populations support domestic demand and lure investment, even as the global expansion weakens.

Demand for real estate in the region may increase as state-owned investment companies such as China Investment Corp. (CIC) diversify assets to offset volatility.

CIC's alternative investments surged almost 40 percent in 2011, according to the company’s annual report.

UK offshore tax

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government will introduce on annual tax on residential real estate valued at more than 2 million pounds ($3.2 million) that's owned by offshore companies.

The charge will begin in April, the U.K. Treasury said in a draft of the bill Tuesday.

Owners of homes valued at more than 20 million pounds may have to pay a levy of as much as 140,000 pounds a year, according to the Conservative-led government's annual budget report in March.

Prime Minister David Cameron targeted the wealthy to pare a record budget deficit by lifting a transaction tax, known as stamp duty, to 7 percent from 5 percent on homes sold for more than 2 million pounds.

The government is also introducing capital-gains tax on home sales by non-naturalized owners valued at more than 2 million pounds.

New bubble risk

(Bloomberg) -- Banks in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council region risk creating a new bubble if they continue to finance real estate projects, according to a report by AlixPartners LLP.

Although most lenders in the GCC, which includes the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, are well capitalized and have good ratings, many are struggling to deal with the aftermath of the financial crisis and could benefit from re-organization and diversification, the advisory firm said in Dubai Tuesday.

“The temptation is there” to continue investing in property, AlixPartners managing director Claudio Scardovi told reporters. “It's less risky than in other regions globally but banks shouldn’t be caught out again. Certain banks remain crippled by a real estate overhang, asset quality concerns and a post-credit bubble legacy.”

Dubai is reviving several large real estate projects after property prices in the emirate slumped 65 percent since 2008.

Banks there have set aside provisions equal to 30 percent to 45 percent of the value of their non-performing loans compared with 72 percent to 96 percent for similarly rated banks globally, Moody's Investors Service (NYSE: MCO) said on Dec. 7.

GCC countries will need about $1.8 trillion in funding for infrastructure projects over the next 15 years, Scardovi said.

Icelandic 'no'

(Bloomberg) -- Iceland has rejected a $200 million property investment bid by Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo in a decision that was “categorical,” according to Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson.

Huang's “request to purchase or acquire the right of disposal over Grimsstadir a Fjollum has been declined and I don’t know how clearly this has to be said in order for the man to understand,” Jonasson said in an op-ed piece published in Monday’s DV newspaper.

Huang had planned to develop a resort and a mountain park in Iceland through his company, Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group Co., he said last year.

The planned acquisition of 116 square miles of land would be a platform from which to invest elsewhere in the Nordic region, he said.

The billionaire -- who has properties in California and Tennessee -- is known for helping restore villages in China's eastern Anhui province, which are now included on the UNESCO world heritage list.

The company built and operates resorts near the villages.

Kiwi prices

(Bloomberg) -- New Zealand house prices rose in November at the fastest annual pace since late 2007, led by demand in Auckland, while monthly property sales were the highest in five years.

Prices rose 7.3 percent from a year earlier, the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) said.

That's the most since November 2007. Values in Auckland, the nation’s biggest city, jumped 13 percent.

Rapid increases in house values are preventing central bank Governor Graeme Wheeler from cutting interest rates to boost the economic recovery.

“The activity in the Auckland market is now starting to see some spill-over into other parts of the country, with increased buying activity,” REINZ Chief Executive Officer Helen O'Sullivan said. “Tight supply remains the key factor behind increasing prices.”

Prices rose 1.4 percent from October, Monday's report showed. Auckland prices gained 0.9 percent.

House sales climbed 24 percent from a year earlier to 7,454, the most since November 2007, the report showed.

Transaction volumes fell 1.2 percent from October after adjusting for seasonal influences, O'Sullivan said.

The time needed to sell a house dropped to 33 days from 35 days in November last year, REINZ said.

Nuclear fault

(AP) -- A team of Japanese geologists said a seismic fault running underneath a nuclear plant in western Japan is likely to be active, which could force the scrapping of one of its two reactors.

The five-member panel commissioned by the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced Monday that the structure underneath the Tsuruga plant showed signs of seismic movement around 100,000 years ago, recent enough to still be active.

Japanese guidelines prohibit nuclear facilities above active faults. Tsuruga's No. 2 reactor sits directly above the fault and would have to be scrapped if the panel's conclusion is officially accepted.

Authorities are also investigating possible faults near several other plants.

South Korean solar

(Bloomberg) -- The solar unit of Hanwha Group, a South Korean industrial group, signed an agreement to supply solar panels to two of South Africa's largest projects.

Hanwha SolarOne Co., which is based in China, will deliver 155 megawatts of the devices to the Letsatsi and Lesedi solar-power projects, it said Monday.

The photovoltaic plants will be built by Spain's Grupo Gransolar SL and Cobra Instalaciones y Servicios SA along with a local company, with the panels set to be delivered by the end of June, Hanwha said.

Chilean solar farm

(Bloomberg) -- Chile will solicit bids next year to build South America's largest solar farm as the government seeks to kick-start renewable energy investment in the Atacama desert.

The government will offer a $20 million grant and a $400 million loan to build the solar farm in northern Chile, which will have more than 50 megawatts of capacity, Energy Minister Jorge Bunster said Monday. The European Union will furnish an $18 million grant.

The solar farm will be the biggest in South America when complete, Bunster said. The bids will be due in the first half of 2013.

Chile has three solar farms in operation with combined capacity of 9 megawatts.

With little cloud cover and the prospects of high electricity prices through the end of the decade, northern Chile is attracting other solar developers.

Companies including Spain's Acciona SA and the local power utility AES Gener SA filed for permits this year to develop solar projects worth more than $9 billion, according to Chile’s environmental regulator Servicio de Evaluacion Ambiental.

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