January 19, 2007
outlook, 2007 Generally, the trend is up in Michigan
24 Michigan Hardhats
die on-the-job in 2006
Will OSHA get back
Port Huron tunnel
workers won't be forgotten
on auto show
construction outlook, 2007 Generally, the trend is up in Michigan
By Marty Mulcahy
Rocked and rolled by the fortunes of the low-riding automotive
industry, the story of Michigan's woeful economic tale has been
well-told in recent months.
Last year during our annual, informal economic roundup of
construction activity around the state, we expected a barrage
of bad news, but received word of surprising resilience in Michigan's
construction industry. And surely this year, we expected that
the lousy economic news in the state would migrate into construction.
In some areas it has, in most, it hasn't. Overall, we found
that Michigan's construction industry, while still below the
heydays of the late 1990s, is holding its own.
Here's what's happening:
Ann Arbor - It's a sign of the tough economic times
in Michigan when the region that has been the state's most consistent
construction employer over the last 15 years or so - Washtenaw
County - hit a rough patch in the last quarter of 2006.
"Last year was good for the first three quarters, but
things seemed to come to a screeching halt in the fall,"
said Greg Stephens, business manager of IBEW Local 252. "I
think it was because a lot of school work wrapped up, but we
lost a tremendous amount of work in the residential sector, too."
Stephens said Local 252 is experiencing 30-40 percent unemployment,
which is unprecedented in recent years.
The University of Michigan has been the region's rock for
the building trades - five major jobs alone at the university
are creating $1.2 billion in construction activity. They include
the new Mott Children's Hospital, work at the U-M football stadium,
the Kellogg Eye Center, the North Quad and the new Business School.
In other areas, more than one million man-hours have been
worked at the GM Willow Run plant. Pharmaceutical manufacturer
Pfizer is a consistent employer. St. Joseph's Hospital in Ypsilanti
has sponsored $100 million in new construction, including a yet-to-be-built
new patient tower.
A new student union has been built at Eastern Michigan University,
and a new wellness center is slated for Washtenaw Community College.
Construction is ongoing to construct a new Ann Arbor High School.
Toyota will be ramping up its $130 million technical center in
York Township in 2007.
The slowdown in the region's construction momentum should
start to turn around when warmer weather returns.
"I think we'll see a steady improvement once we get to
springtime," Stephens said. "By then everybody should
be back to work."
Bay City/ Saginaw/ Midland area - "A couple of
times in 2006 we had everybody working, and it's been about a
dozen years since we've seen that full employment," said
Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85 Business Manager Scott Garrison.
"It sure beats the 50 percent unemployment we had a few
Work in the region includes projects at some "old reliables,"
including: expansion at the Hemlock Semiconductor plant, upgrades
at the Dow Corning plant, new construction at Dow Chemical, and
upgrades to the Consumers Energy Karn-Weadock plant.
Ethanol plant construction is growing like corn: Two more
plants, in Ithaca and McBain (north of Cadillac), are both a
go for '07.
The building trades have completed a new elementary school
in Saginaw and worked on four other schools - and there will
be as many projects in 2007. In upper education, Saginaw Valley
State University will be getting new dorms in '07, and Central
Michigan University will sponsor three projects.
Not unlike the rest of the state, health care projects are
booming here, too. The
Bay Regional Medical Center is adding on 140,000 square-feet
of space and 66,000 square-feet of renovated space, to the tune
of $40 million. HealthSource Saginaw is undergoing a $35 million
building replacement and improvement project. Gratiot County
Hospital will be getting a four-story addition.
All told, Garrison said, "'06 was a good year and it
looks to me like '07 is going to be even better."
Detroit/Southeast Michigan - Last month, the construction
outlook for both Southeast Michigan and the entire State of Michigan
was detailed at the Detroit Economic Club. It was laid out by
Ron Hausmann, president of Walbridge-Aldinger's Heavy, Civil
and Construction Engineering Group and 2007 chairman of the Michigan
Association of Constructors.
We provided the highlights of his speech in an article last
month that covered the entire state - now here's his forecast
for Southeast Michigan (he included the Ann Arbor area).
"Bottom line for Southeast Michigan Construction as we
move into 2007, is that we'll see about the same amount of construction
spending, continuing to be less in residential, and more in many
of the smaller non-residential construction markets," Hausmann
Big-ticket projects in the region include the new MGM, Greektown
and Motor City casinos, the renovation of the Book-Cadillac Hotel,
work at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, and the new North Terminal
at Metro Airport.
Jobs that may start in 2007, Hausmann said, include work at
the Detroit Medical Center heart hospital, Children's Hospital
in Detroit, McClaren Hospital in Oakland County, the FBI facility
in Detroit, modernization of I-94 in Detroit, and the Detroit
Water and Sewage Dept. Oakwood Basin Program.
All-told, Hausmann said there are 17 known substantial projects
approaching $3 billion. He said the construction industry in
Michigan generated about $6 billion in revenue in 2006, about
3 percent less than in 2005 and "substantially" less
than the peak in 2000.
About 45 percent of all the state's construction workers are
in Southeast Michigan. The number of construction workers employed
is down about 10.5 from 2000.
He said about 40 percent of SE Michigan's construction in
2006 was residential - down significantly from 2004 when residential
exceeded 50 percent of the market. Housing construction is continuing
to decline as a percentage of Michigan's overall construction
"The overall residential downturn in our construction
industry in SE Michigan dollars has largely been offset by steady
gains in non-residential segments," Hausmann said, which
is good news for union construction.
In various construction sectors he projected:
- Offices: up 2% in 2006 and up another 4% in 2007
- Retail: same in 2006 and up 6% in 2007
- Medical, health : up 10 percent in 2006 and up 10% in 2007
- Manufacturing: doubled in 2006 from 2005; same level in 2007
- Education: same levels of spending overall 06 and 07
- Highways: up 31% in 2006 and up another 12% in 2007
Flint - There weren't any large jobs to speak of around
here in 2006, few mid-sized jobs, and a lot of small ones that
did what they could to keep area trades employed.
"Last year held its own, but man-hours were down compared
to '05," said Zane Walker, president of the Flint Area Building
Trades and a business agent with Iron Workers Local 25.
Construction of the GM L-6 Engine Plant wound down in '06,
taking away a nice baseline employer for the trades. Some of
the slack is being picked up at hospitals and with school work.
McLaren Hospitals in both Lapeer and Flint are putting on significant
The Carman-Ainsworth School District, north of Flint, is sponsoring
construction of new elementary schools and school additions.
North Branch High School is getting a $25 million addition, and
the district is getting a $25 million new elementary school.
Mott Community College has ongoing improvements worth about
$10 million, and Baker College consistently has a small amount
of work ongoing.
The best news the area has heard in a long time, Walker said,
came on Jan. 10 with the announcement by E 85 Inc. of the planned
construction of a $150 million ethanol plant in Corunna.
"I think, for us, '07 is going to be a lot like '06,
with our people employed by a lot of small jobs," Walker
said. "It's going to be slow, and we're going to have some
of our people traveling for work."
Grand Rapids/Muskegon - There's a nice boom going on
in the City of Grand Rapids, where the city reports that $513
million in ongoing construction activity, part of $1.1 billion
in total work that's planned over the next few years.
There's more good news in nearby areas as well, as the building
trades will be putting their skills to work in a wide variety
of projects that should keep them busy in 2007.
"You take a look at what's going on, and we're definitely
sitting a lot better than we were in '03, '04 or '05," said
Bruce Hawley, business manager of Iron Workers Local 340 and
president of the West Michigan Building Trades Council. "We
had a pretty good '06, and this year is looking to be at least
In Grand Rapids hundreds of Hardhats are toiling on "Hospital
Hill," which includes work on the $190 million Devos Children's
Hospital, the Spectrum Cancer Pavilion, a women's health center
and a new phase of the Van Andel Institute. The $60 million Icon
on Bond condo project is moving along, as is a new $100 million
Marriott Hotel, a new museum, in addition to a new $60 million
River House at Bridgewater Place condo development.
In other parts of western Michigan, more than 1,000 trades
workers are toiling at Consumers Energy's J.H. Campbell plant.
Major water treatment plants are being built along Lake Michigan
near the Campbell plant, and in Wyoming. Big new casinos are
being erected in New Buffalo and Weyland.
While K-12 education work has slowed, major projects are in
the works at Grand Valley State University and at Ferris State.
"It looks like we're going to be pretty active,"
Kalamazoo/Battle Creek - The new year is starting slow,
but it seems to be a lull between a good 2006 and probably a
That was the appraisal of the Southwest Michigan Building
Trades Council President Hugh Coward, who said construction workers
should be putting their skills to work in a variety of sectors
One of the biggest jobs going is the $160 million Four Winds
Casino in New Buffalo. The 52-acre development include six restaurants,
124,000 square-feet of gaming space, and future phases are expected
to include a 160-room hotel and special events center.
In Kalamazoo, the new eight-story Miller-Canfield building
is under construction. Johnson Controls will provide some employment.
So will Stryker.
School districts that have had construction include the recently
completed Lakeview High School and Pennfield High, which will
be completed this summer.
School district construction bond issue votes are slated in May
for Battle Creek ($85 million), Marshall ($75 million) and Portage
Two projects at Western Michigan include dorm renovations
Kohrman Hall and Brown Hall. A new $28 million Kalamazoo County
Juvenile Facility will start this year.
The health care sector is well-covered, with work coming up
at Calhoun County Medical Center in Battle Creek, another phase
of construction at the Battle Creek Health System, and more employment
at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo.
And, yet another ethanol plant is on its way, a $90 million
project in Watervliet.
"All in all we're looking at a real good year for the
Southwest Building Trades," Coward said.
Lansing area - Last year at this time, the $800 million
GM Assembly Plant in Delta Township was in its final stages,
school and hospital work was strong, and construction employment
was pretty good in mid-Michigan.
"Unfortunately, '06 was a lot like the month of March:
it came in like a lion and went out like a lamb," said Scott
Clark, business manager of IBEW Local 665 and secretary of the
Lansing Area Building Trades. "Things dropped off at the
end of the year, and I don't really see them rebounding much
Some of the good news in the region includes the ongoing construction
of the $67 million, four-story West Wing expansion at Sparrow
Hospital, and the $50 million expansion of Ingham Regional Medical
Center. The HardTech Mason plant is expanding to the tune of
$74 million, and construction of a new Michigan State Credit
Union has started.
School work is usually a stalwart sector, but three major
school projects have been completed in recent years, and the
outlook in '07 is slim, so far. Spinoff work from the Delta Township
plant also hasn't materialized.
Clark said he'd have a better handle on the coming year when
bid packages go out in a month or two.
Mike Crawford, secretary-manager of the Lansing-based Michigan
Chapter National Electrical Contractors Association, and area
representative, acknowledged the slowdown, and said area trades
and contractors are looking long-term at attracting new businesses.
"A common theme that has cropped up in mid-Michigan is
support for the Prima Civitas group that was founded by David
Hollister," he said. "There's a lot of excitement about
the alliances formed with Michigan State University and the mid-Michigan
Construction Alliance, and the focus that's being put on attracting
new business and industry."
Hollister, the former Mayor of Lansing and director of the
Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, founded Prima
Civitas as a non-profit regional economic development organization.
The organization's goal is to "leverage the area's assets
in higher education and K-12; auto and other manufacturing; agriculture;
and emerging life science and information technology sectors
to build a new economy." Grant money from the state's 21st
Century Jobs Fund is being leveraged to attract new kinds of
businesses - the multitude of state ethanol plants are one example
as are other types of energy development.
Monroe - As they have for years, area Hardhats have
looked to DTE Energy's Monroe Power Plant and the Fermi 2 Nuclear
Power Plant as cornerstone employers in the area.
The two power plants continue to be major sponsors of work.
In 2006, through 2007 and into 2008, the Washington Group, DTE
Energy and the trades are installing new pollution controls at
the coal-burning Monroe Power Plant, in a $700 million project
that employed some 600 trades people at peak employment last
Unfortunately, this year, there will be a lull in the project
until scrubbers are installed in the fall.
Meanwhile, at Fermi 2, an 18-month refueling outage is also
expected to begin in the fall, although there has been little
information released so far, said Ron Sweat, business manager
of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 671.
"We had a pretty decent year in 2006, with most of our
members employed," Sweat said. "It slowed down before
the holidays, and I don't see it picking up again until the fall.
All in all it looks like a pretty slow year around here."
Sweat said area trades workers in '06 completed the Dundee
Engine Plant, rebuilt a furnace at Spartan Steel in Frenchtown
Township, put up an addition to Mac Steel in Monroe, and got
spotty work at Plastech, where nonunion trades have been a problem.
The slower work picture in the Washtenaw area has had a domino
effect in surrounding areas like Monroe, Sweat said, where up
to 10 Local 671 members regularly have been employed. That's
not the case now.
Traverse City/NW Michigan - Construction work has slowed
down this winter, as it usually does, but prospects are good
"Last year was a heckuva lot better than in '03, '04
or '05," said Jeff Bush, business manager of IBEW Local
498. "We had a real good summer and fall in 2006. We're
looking pretty good into 2007, and maybe into 2008 if the work
that's out there goes our way."
The major employer in the area continues to be the new $140
million Odawa casino in Petoskey. The trades are also working
at the Little River Casino in Manistee, Merritt Energy in Kalkaska.
Other projects that will provide employment in '07 include the
Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, condos in Boyne City
and a Charlevoix harbor project.
"We've done pretty well in light commercial, and residential
work was also pretty good until the market dried up like it did
everywhere," Bush said. "But overall this should be
one of our better years if the projects I'm hearing about go
union. If not, it could be pretty slim around here."
Upper Peninsula - "The year 2006 was pretty good
for construction activity in the U.P.," said Tony Retaskie,
executive director of the U.P. Construction Council. "In
'07, we're looking forward to more opportunities for work and
a better year."
Work on higher education campuses are expected to be major
sources of work in the Upper Peninsula, with miscellaneous improvements
at Michigan Tech, an ongoing expansion at Bay Community College,
and the remodeling of a hall at Northern Michigan University.
There are also various K-12 education renovations and additions
throughout the U.P.
The trades are also working on the Hannahville Casino, a wastewater
treatment project in Marquette, and a new $3.2 million DNR dock
on Mackinac Island. There will be some work in the mines, including
the prospect of the start of construction of the Kennecott nickel
mine, which is expected to include an investment of $100 million.
Paper mill work will also be available.
Retaskie said there are also "plenty of rumors"
of big box retail coming to Iron Mountain, Escanaba and Marquette.
It's almost unheard-of that there would be no snow on the ground
throughout many areas of the U.P. in the second week of January,
but that's the case across the Midwestern and Eastern U.S. Retaskie
said the warmer weather probably hasn't had much of an effect
on the construction industry - with the exception of allowing
Hardhats to work a little more comfortably.
"Maybe some projects have a little more going on, but
we all know that there's a lot of winter to go this year,"
Michigan Hardhats die on-the-job in 2006
There were 24 construction worker fatalities in Michigan in
2006 - an increase of one-third over the 16 Hardhats who died
on the job in 2005.
The causes for the fatalities were led, as usual, by falls.
There were eight in 2006, followed by five struck-bys, and cave-ins,
electrocutions, and caught-bys (three each). Two died following
"Falls, electrocutions, struck-bys and caught-bys are
usually at the top of the list for construction fatalities,"
said MIOSHA Construction Safety and Health Supervisor Tony Allam.
"Those are areas that we constantly stress in our seminars
and safety presentations before workers and employers."
The increase in fatalities from 2005 to 2006 was significant
- but the 24 deaths last year were more in line with the average.
In recent years in Michigan, the single-year high was 37 construction
worker fatalities in 1997. Before 16 Hardhats died on the job
in 2005, the most recent low fatality count for a single year
was 17 in 1995.
In the 1960s, before MIOSHA was instituted, an average of
44 Michigan construction workers were killed on the job every
get back on track?
OSHA, under the Bush Administration, has been sharply criticized
by the labor movement and non-profit organizations such as Public
Citizen for its failure to promulgate and enforce safety and
health standards, particularly with regard to the construction
After the fall mid-term elections produced a Democratic Congress
for the first time in 12 years, these criticisms could translate
into OSHA reform.
The publication of OSHA's rulemaking agenda in the Dec. 11
Federal Register confirms past criticism. For 2007, only one
rule is slated for final action while only two others will reach
the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) stage. It should be
noted that once a NPRM is published, public hearings are held,
followed by legal briefs. A final rule is still normally two
to three years off.
The NPRM for Employer Payment for Personal Protective Equipment
was published in 1999 but has been stalled ever since. At issue
is the obligation of employers to pay for the personal protective
equipment (PPE) used by their employees. Claiming PPE is a "tool
of the trade," some industry groups deny any employer obligation
to pay for it.
Responding to this assertion when OSHA reopened the record
for further comment in 2004, LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer
and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni said, "The
Occupational Safety and Health Act was designed to require employers
to provide workplaces free of recognized hazards. If OSHA now
requires workers to pay for their own PPE, it is shifting the
burden from employers to workers. This is the antithesis of the
intention of the original regulation and will result in great
inconsistencies in worker protection. This hurts contractors
and workers alike."
In most union workplaces the question of who pays for what
PPE is well-established by tradition or is spelled out in the
contract. However, in the absence of direction from OSHA, nonunion
employers assert whatever they wish, often leaving it to their
workers to provide their own protection. Inevitably, this practice
undermines overall safety on these work sites.
Now, two years after the record was reopened, OSHA apparently
is nearing a decision. Final Action on the PPE rule is scheduled
for May of this year.
Only three other construction-related rules are advancing
this year, though final action on any of them is still years
After a long delay, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update
the crane and derrick standard is expected in the fall. OSHA
initiated review in 2002 after industry stakeholders asked the
agency, in light of technological developments, to update the
standard, specifically requesting that negotiated rulemaking
be employed to facilitate the process.
A committee was established which met in an accelerated process
and issued its consensus proposal in 2004. Unfortunately, it
has taken OSHA three more years to ready its NPRM, which is now
scheduled for October.
Similarly, a confined space standard in construction has been
on OSHA's agenda since 1993 when the agency adopted a general
industry standard that excluded construction. At that time, OSHA
reached a settlement agreement with the United Steel Workers
that required it to develop and issue a proposed rule for construction.
Fourteen years later, that NPRM is now expected in February.
A proposed silica standard appears to be making slight headway,
though when a NPRM might be issued is far from clear. OSHA acknowledges
that the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for silica in construction
- established in 1962 based on technology that has long been
considered obsolete - is outdated but that substantial numbers
of fatalities and disabling illness continue as a result of excessive
While non-regulatory efforts to address the problem were launched
as early as 1997, the agency waited until 2003 to initiate rulemaking.
That year, a draft rule was reviewed by the Small Business Regulatory
Enforcement and Fairness Act (SBREFA) committee, and subsequently
the agency initiated a peer review of its risk assessment. That
assessment is now slated for completion in April, but OSHA has
not indicated how or how fast it will move after that.
One rule that will not get consideration this year is the
long-awaited Hearing Conservation Program for Construction Workers.
OSHA mandated a comprehensive hearing conservation program for
noise-exposed workers in general industry in 1983. Despite ample
evidence that hearing loss is epidemic in construction, the agency
waited until 2002 to issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
The comment period for that notice expired in 2002, and stakeholder
meetings were convened in 2004. Nevertheless, the date of the
agency's next action officially remains "undetermined."
Unfortunately, even the rules that OSHA has already adopted
are poorly enforced. Part of the problem is an incoherent methodology.
Another part may be an insufficient number of inspectors.
In recent years, OSHA's compliance budget has been set to ensure
the same number of annual work site inspections as were made
in 2003. However, the number of workplace fatalities and serious
injuries continues to creep upward. Some commentators believe
the U.S. does not have enough inspectors on the job. According
to the International Labor Office (a part of the United Nations),
an "industrial market" nation should have one inspector
for every 10,000 workers. According to OSHA, however, state and
federal inspectors in the U.S. number about 2,500, which is only
one for every 70,000 workers.
A third problem in enforcement is a general lack of serious
penalties, even for willful regulatory infractions that result
in worker deaths. Under OSHA, such failures are treated as misdemeanors
and are seldom prosecuted.
The problems of health and safety in construction and other
areas of the North American economy are compounded by accelerating
changes in the ethnic composition of the workforce. More and
more workers are of Hispanic backgrounds, immigrants from Mexico
and other Latin American nations. The language barrier and widespread
status issues (legal/illegal) make it easier for unscrupulous
employers to take advantage these workers, particularly in the
non-union sectors of the economy.
Over the last decade, the proportion of construction fatalities
that are Hispanic has been steadily rising. Such aggregate data
is amplified by sharp exposures of the problem, such as occurred
this fall in New York City. Amid a building boom, the city witnessed
a 61 percent increase in fatal construction incidents during
the 12 month period that ended on September 30. Falls from suspended
scaffolds were, by far, the largest portion of the deaths - 17
out of 29. Moreover, 21 of the deaths involved workers who were
immigrants and 24 involved non-union companies.
While OSHA has acknowledged the problem of mounting Hispanic
deaths and injuries, the agency has yet to find a way to address
it. It has set up a Spanish language website and telephone hotline.
According to OSHA Director Edwin G. Foulke, Jr., speaking to
a reporter for the New York Times last November, the agency is
"going to more pictorial-type information [that] will highlight
what the hazard is and what is the proper way to avoid these
Congress could improve the lot of immigrant workers by enacting
immigration reform that provides some kind of legal status and
protection to immigrants so they can better risk standing up
for safety on the job. However, it remains unclear whether Congress
will tackle immigration reform in the coming session. Another
option for Congress is adoption of improved protections for whistleblowers.
Senator Ted Kennedy (D - MA) included such protections in a bill
he submitted in the last Congress.
Whatever Congress may do to address the specific plight of
immigrant workers, it can mitigate on-the-job dangers for all
workers in the United States by spurring OSHA rulemaking and
enforcement. Ultimately, protecting all workers is the agency's
primary responsibility. As Sabitoni says, "It's time to
get OSHA back on track protecting our members in the workplace."
(This article is from the Laborers Health and Safety Fund).
Huron tunnel workers won't be forgotten
HURON - Michigan's worst construction accident took place
at 3:11 p.m. Dec. 11, 1971, when 22 men were killed and nine
injured in an explosion inside a Lake Huron water intake tunnel
owned by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
A spark ignited an unseen cloud of methane gas, creating an
explosion that caused a massive shock wave to travel the length
of the tunnel. The blast inside the tunnel was compared to the
barrel of a gun, and witnesses reported seeing debris - lunch
boxes, clothing, hard hats - shoot 200 feet into the air.
It took 30 years to start an effort to erect a marker or memorial
to commemorate the men who died in the explosion. It took another
five years for that effort to come to fruition: This spring or
early this summer, a monument will be complete in Fort Gratiot
County Park, in an area that is located directly above the tunnel.
Debbie Comeau founded and chairs the group - the "1971
Water Tunnel Explosion Committee" - that led the drive to
erect the monument. Debbie's husband, Randy, was nine when his
father Raymond was killed in the explosion. She helped form the
committee after the Port Huron Times Herald reminded its reading
audience that no monument had ever been built to honor the Hardhats
who were killed.
"People really came out of the woodwork when they heard
what we were doing," Comeau said. "I have never done
anything like this in my life, and after talking to other family
members of those who died, it really tore my heart apart to hear
their stories. This really became a passion."
The memorial will focus on a bronze statue of a typical tunnel
construction worker of the time, with a light on his hard hat,
a pick-axe in his hand, wearing work clothes and boots from that
period. The statue will be surrounded by paver bricks formed
in a circle with the names of well-wishes who paid to have their
names inscribed on bricks, which offsets the cost of the monument.
The names of the men who died will be engraved on a granite
marker at the site, which is on the Lake Huron Shore. Another
marker will explain what happened in 1971.
Comeau said they are still accepting donations to offset the
cost of the memorial. Checks can be made payable to: Community
Foundation of St. Clair County - Tunnel Fund, 516 McMorran Blvd.,
Port Huron, MI 48060. Anyone wishing to have their name inscribed
on a brick at the memorial can call her at (810) 982-4826 for
Here's an account of what happened on Dec. 11, 1971, according
to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Detroit's northernmost
water intake was nearing completion, as vertical drilling operations
inside a cofferdam on the lake were taking place on the lake,
and crews were ready to tap into the horizontal water tunnel:
At about 11 a.m., 43 men descended into the tunnel, roughly
230 feet below the
surface. They took up positions within the last unlined mile
at the shore end, where they continued finishing operations.
William Rounsville, who would survive the explosion, later
recalled asking one of the supervisors, Vernard Woolstenhulme,
if drilling would be taking place at the other end of the tunnel.
"No," said Woolstenhulme. "They're going to drill
tomorrow, and I don't want any of my men in the tunnel."
Woolstenhulme and his grandson, Gary Roehm, died in the explosion.
Meanwhile out at the cofferdam, refrigerating the bottom sediment
had worked like a charm. Over the course of the last several
days, crews had drilled through 30-feet of sediment into shale
to within about eight feet of the
top of the tunnel. They would drill the remaining eight-feet
The men in the tunnel didn't know about the drilling that
was planned. The men on the drilling platform thought the tunnel
was empty. The drill bit bored through the remaining eight feet
of shale without problem. The bit broke through the concrete
roof of the tunnel, at which point the crew broke for lunch.
It was now about 1:50 p.m. As the bit cut through the shale,
it cut through, at least, one pocket of methane that vented into
the big, empty, unventilated end of the tunnel. While the drilling
crew ate lunch, gas collected. Following lunch, the crew tried
to retrieve the bit, but encountered resistance.
They could always retrieve the bit later, and chose to activate
a release mechanism and jettison it.
Around 3:11 p.m., the heavy, 23-inch drill bit was released
from the shaft. It fell to the bottom of the tunnel where experts
say it created a spark upon impact with the concrete. The spark,
in turn, ignited the accumulated methane, and an unstoppable
chain of events was put into play.
On the drilling platform, crew members felt a hot blast of
air shoot from the hole accompanied by "a sound like a jet
taking off," according to one of the drillers. A crewmember
was knocked back into the water.
According to contemporary newspaper accounts, Russ Michaels,
a Water Department inspector, immediately called (project engineer)
Greenfield and Associates' site headquarters near the tunnel
entrance to advise them of the explosion, adding, "It's
a good thing no one was working down there."
An unidentified voice replied, "We had 41 men working
down there - and we think they are buried." Those killed
were more than four-and-one-half miles from the explosion's epicenter.
Of those in the tunnel, 22 made it out alive, seven of those
were carried out on stretchers. The least injured, Francis Hamrick,
suffered a broken arm, neck injuries, cuts and bruises. The actual
22nd victim, Keith Verner, died about 10 months after the explosion.
In the weeks and months that followed the explosion, 30 lawsuits
were filed in Wayne County. Some were dismissed as frivolous.
Many others were not. Eventually, $8.5 million - a record in
1976 - was awarded to several plaintiffs.
The families of the men who died in the tunnel, each received
$750 from the State
of Michigan for funeral expenses. Widows received $79 a week
for 10 years. Those
with children got $102.
The most significant development to come from out of this
tragedy was a revamping of Michigan's occupational safety laws.
A RENDERING OF the memorial for Michigan's
worst construction accident.
focus on auto show
DETROIT - Hundreds of construction workers re-made Cobo Center
into the North American International Auto Show, which wraps
up Sunday, Jan. 21
In 2007, The Detroit Auto Dealers Association will celebrate
100 years of sponsorship of the North American International
Auto Show (NAIAS)/Detroit Auto Show. Since its inception in 1907,
the show has grown from a regional event featuring 17 exhibitors
to an internationally sanctioned show with over 90 exhibitors,
adding nearly $600 million to the metro Detroit region last year
alone. The NAIAS features more new vehicle debuts and garners
more media coverage than any other automotive event in North
Reflecting the lousy economy for domestic auto manufacturers,
Iron Workers Local 25 steward Mike Decker said "displays
have been downsized, in some cases they've reduced the size of
the displays." And employment for the building trades at
Cobo Center has been reduced compared to recent years, also.
ADJUSTING A LIGHT in the Ford display at the
North American International Auto Show is Tom Colegrove of IBEW
Local 58 and Motor City Electric.
INSTALLING A NEW enclosure for doors at the
entrance of Cobo Center are Scott Labrash and Tom Knotek of Glaziers
and Glassworkers Local 357 and Christy Glass.
Health care costs moderate
A study released this month, considered the most comprehensive
look at the nation's health care spending, found that per-person
health care spending rose by 6.9 percent in 2005. That's down
from 7.2 percent in 2004 and is the lowest increase since 1999.
Published in the journal Health Affairs, the study said 2005
is the most recent information available. The report said it
isn't clear whether the trend toward lower costs is temporary
"Health care costs continued to grow faster than the
underlying rate of inflation, faster t
han the rest of the economy and faster than the growth in average
wages, said Jack Ebeler, a health care consultant, to the Wall
The study found that prescription drug costs rose 5.8 percent
in 2005, compared to 8.2 percent in 2004 and a peak of 18.2 percent
Ford to unleash $866 B in spending
Elsewhere in this paper, a forecast for the 2007 construction
industry in Southeast Michigan mentioned 17 projects approaching
On Jan. 9, the Ford Motor Co. showed its value to Michigan
Hardhats by announcing investments totaling $866 million in six
Southeastern Michigan plants. With its announcement, the financially
ailing automaker underscored its commitment to Michigan - which
hopefully won't be lost on the state's vehicle buyers.
Ford said the investments in flexible manufacturing and advanced
powertrain production will help the company grow its small-car
lineup, produce more fuel-efficient transmissions, and fortify
its worldwide truck leadership position.
"Our turnaround in North America and our return to profitability
is based on strategic investment, not just cost cutting,"
said Mark Fields, president, The Americas, Ford Motor Company.
"With this investment, we're expanding our commitment to
small cars, producing fuel-efficient powertrains and fortifying
our truck leadership."
These investments, which represent the first part of a $1
billion commitment from Ford, are supported by a Michigan Economic
Development Corporation incentive package of $151 million. In
addition, the state and local communities are considering additional
property tax abatements.
"The state is pleased to partner with one of our major
auto manufacturers to provide the leadership and creativity that
will retain jobs in Michigan," Governor Jennifer M. Granholm
said. "Ford's commitment to flexible manufacturing, designing
and producing the vehicles that people want and solidifying their
market leadership in truck manufacturing bodes well for Michigan's
economy in the immediate future."
The investments are as follows:
- Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant received $130 million for
tooling and equipment to build the all-new 2008 Ford Focus, which
has been redesigned inside and out.
- Van Dyke Transmission Plant received $320 million to install
a flexible machining line to assemble a fuel-efficient, high
performance 6-speed, front-wheel drive transmission for the next
generation Ford Escape.
- Livonia Transmission Plant received $88 million to install
flexible tooling to increase its production of a fuel-efficient,
high performance 6-speed, rear-wheel drive transmission for the
2009 Ford F-150.
- Woodhaven Stamping Plant received $89 million for new dies
and subassembly equipment to stamp parts for the 2009 Ford F-150.
- Dearborn Stamping Plant received $31 million for new dies
and subassembly equipment to stamp doors and hoods for the 2009
- Dearborn Truck Plant received $208 million to install additional
tooling and equipment to build the 2009 Ford F-150. Additionally,
the investment will be used to convert Ford's historic Glass
Plant on the Rouge site into a training center for the launch
of the all-new pickup.
"With these investments and a focused and committed workforce,
we stand ready to deliver the cars and trucks that people want,"
said Joseph Hinrichs, vice president, North America Manufacturing.
"We're solidifying our manufacturing base and positioning
ourselves for future growth."
Ford employs nearly 325,000 and has 110 plants worldwide.