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November 23, 2001
By Marty Mulcahy
What was most likely the heaviest construction lift in the history of the State of Michigan - and one of the heaviest ever in the U.S. - took place on Nov. 2, when a 2,764-ton roof truss section was jacked into place over Ford Field.
The 450-foot long section installed at the west-end of the stadium wasn't built conventionally, and it wasn't lifted conventionally, either. For the last several months, iron workers assembled the massive truss section on what will be the Detroit Lions' playing field. When it was completed, 10 synchronized diesel-powered hydraulic strand jacks moved the section up about 18 inches at a time, where it was anchored at about 180 feet over the stadium.
"We had a glitch or two, but overall, everything went smoothly," said Andrew Duncan, senior project engineer for John Gibson Projects, which handled the hydraulic lift jack operations.
A twin truss section at the east end of the stadium is expected to be lifted in a similar manner in December. Additional roof support iron is currently being erected at the roof level between the main trusses.
Duncan said project planners saw big benefits in assembling the Ford Field roof support trusses on the ground.
"Right from the start, you're not exposing the tradesmen to as much danger," he said. Additionally, he said there are cost and time savings from not having to move steel and personnel up and down. And, if the iron were assembled in the air, 10-to-20-story temporary shoring towers would have to be erected, which would have to be built as if they were to be permanently installed - a costly proposition.
"It's safer, and you save time and money," Duncan said. "I think the reason some contractors are continuing to build conventionally is because that's the way they've been doing it for years, and they're unable to think out of the box."
Both Mark Maracle, the general foreman for steel erector Sova/SCI-Steelcon, and Iron Workers Local 25 project steward Robert "Jeep" Eldridge, said up or down, it made little difference to their members where the steel was assembled.
"Even on the ground, we still had to go up to build it," Eldridge said. "Either way, we'd take care of it. They thought it would work better on the ground, so that's what we're doing, and things have worked out fine."
A single operator at the controls of a joystick controlled the lift. All non-essential construction personnel were cleared from the area during the truss-raising.
With the exception of having to drill a few holes so bolts would be aligned properly at the top, and a few other minor glitches, the lift of the truss section "went together great," Maracle said. "It's a nice piece of engineering. Really, it was just like putting up a bridge."
Double-shifts of iron workers and operating engineers working a total of 20 hours a day have moved the project along. Once the final roof truss iron is moved off the existing dirt base of the stadium, another 30 feet of ground will be dug out and leveled in preparation for the playing field. And there will be a roof overhead to keep out the weather.
The project manager at Ford Field is Hunt-Jenkins. The project's steel fabricator/erector Sova/SCI-Steelcon worked with John Gibson Projects and Ruby & Associates, a structural engineering erection consulting firm. Mike Eagan, associate general manager for Ruby and Associates, said they were "very pleased" with the work of the trades
"They've been a very professional group," Duncan agreed.
"Si Stroia and Bob Eldridge were instrumental in getting this job on track for the iron workers," said Local 25 BA Nick Siefert. "Plus our guys are doing a good job and they're working safe."
One of President Bush's first acts as president was the issuance of an executive order on Feb. 17 prohibiting project labor agreements on federally funded construction projects.
Not so fast, said U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. In a
Nov. 7 ruling, he said Bush's Executive Order "in its entirety
is preempted" by the National Labor Relations Act. The judge
ruled that Bush overstepped his authority, and permanently halted
the enforcement of the executive order.
Many local and state governments make it a policy to use union-only project labor agreements to build taxpayer-funded projects. Those that do regard the agreements as a good business practice, assuring them a ready supply of skilled workers able to bring in projects on-time and on-budget.
Predictably, the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors said the ruling "is bad for the country" and called on the Justice Department to appeal Sullivan's decision.
The Wall Street Journal reported that building trade
unions hope that their support of President Bush's push to drill
for oil in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge will sway the president
to hold off on appealing the ruling. The ABC said unions are
overestimating their clout. Stay tuned.
The fallout from the World Trade Center collapse is approaching the construction industry, as higher premium costs in a variety of areas are anticipated in order to help insurers make up for monumental losses when the towers fell.
William McIntyre IV, chairman of American Contractors Insurance Group Ltd., Dallas, an industry-owned captive insurance company, told an annual risk management insurance conference last month that estimated insurance general liability premiums could rise as much as 200 percent. Auto liability and umbrella polices could rise 100 percent, and workers' compensation rates could rise from 6-35 percent.
As reported by the Engineering News Record, McIntyre said "insurance companies are being forced to introduce new discipline" to underwriting insurance policies because of increasing operational losses, declining investment income and the World Trade Center costs. Insurers are being forced to pay out an estimated $40-$50 billion following the attack on the towers.
However, with the impact of Sept. 11 events spread over numerous insurers, "there's no doubt the insurance companies can stand it," said Robert Hunter, director for insurance for Consumer Federation of America.
To combat the higher costs, contractors were urged to act quickly to lock in lower rates. To keep rates as low as possible, insurers are urging their contractor-customers to produce high quality work, maintain a safe work environment, and hire experienced workers.
"Produce high-quality work in a safe environment. That is the kind of customer that Zurich North America wants to do business with," said Michael Markman, the insurance firm's CEO of construction. He said that construction defects are a major problem for insurers.
For individuals, property insurance costs may rise, but it's unclear how other insurance costs will be affected.
"It's too early to tell until we understand the full
dimension of what's involved here,"
By Marty Mulcahy
ROCKLAND - Wood and water don't mix? Yup, that's pretty much true.
Water always wins? No doubt about it.
Those two generally accepted engineering principles were clearly illustrated over the last few years near this western Upper Peninsula town, in the form of a deteriorating mile-long wooden pipeline that fed the Victoria Hydroelectric Station.
Numerous leaks in the pipeline prompted the owner, the Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO), to replace it over the last few months with a new, coated steel pipeline that should remain leak-proof for the foreseeable future - but will undoubtedly have a lot less character.
"It got to be where the old pipe looked like a sprinkler," said Jim Mennes, who managed the project for Montgomery Watson Harza. "The maintenance on it was terrific. There were thousands of leaks every year."
And how do you plug leaks in a 10-foot diameter pipe constructed of Douglas Fir? The one effective method was the use of wooden shims, which were tapped into one of the metal bands that surrounded the pipeline and usually sealed the leak. Workers would usually don rain jackets to do the work - the duty wasn't too bad in the summer, but Mennes said in the winter, "it was not a fun job."
The wooden pipeline, or "penstock," that was torn-out this summer was installed in 1959. It replaced the original pipeline that was built in 1929 to feed a hydroelectric generating station owned at the time by the Copper Range Mining Co. The pipeline's original 1929 steel bands, set 3 1/2 inches on center, stayed in service for 72 years.
The leaks had also deteriorated the pipeline's support saddles and foundation.
Building trades boilermakers, who have jurisdiction over penstock installation, as well as operating engineers, replaced the 6,050 foot-long wooden pipe with a 9.5-foot diameter, spiral-welded steel pipeline. They took care of the $6 million project working with engineering and site manager Montgomery Watson Harza and pipeline installation contractor Azco, Inc.
The pipeline extends from dam reservoirs on the Ontonagon River, down 215 feet to the Victoria Hydroelectric Plant. The downhill movement of the water places a maximum of 93 pounds per square-inch of pressure at the end of the pipeline, where 65-inch cast steel water wheels drive a spinning turbine to produce electricity.
The Victoria station's two units generates a total of 12,400 kilowatts. Owner UPPCO, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Public Service, supplies energy to about 50,000 customers in 10 of the U.P.'s 15 counties.
This isn't the last wooden penstock - Boilermakers Local 169
BA Babe Jenerou said there are still numerous such pipelines
in the U.P. and around the nation. He said about 18 boilermakers
worked on this project, as did several Operating Engineers Local
324 members, said BA Bill Gray.
By Marty Mulcahy
Michigan's nuclear power industry consists of three plants that supply a combined 14.1 percent of the electricity generated in Michigan.
The D.C. Cook, Fermi 2 and Palisades plants are a major source of electricity to the state - and over the last three decades, they have been a major source of employment to the building trades.
"Michigan's three plants are custom-designed, and they represent a real diversity of nuclear plant styles," said Pam Alloway-Mueller, spokeswoman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "That's not unusual. The plants were built over a wide range of time, so they represent changes in technology and experience."
The plants cost billions of dollars to build, and they're continuing to provide the building trades with millions of dollars in maintenance outage man-hours. The Fermi 2 plant has regular refueling outages and other projects that employ hundreds of Hardhats. Some 600 building trades workers were on the Palisades site in 1998 when a large refueling outage took place. Nuclear plants require a lot of maintenance - and union trades workers are glad for it.
Following are summaries of Michigan's atom splitters, which make up an important part of the state's construction landscape:
D.C. Cook - Combined, the two reactors at the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Power Plant south of Berrien Springs are rated at 2,100 megawatts, making the plant the largest producer of nuclear power in Michigan.
Located on 650 acres along Lake Michigan, the plant was one of the largest construction projects ever in the state, employing up to 2,000 Hardhats. The construction permit was granted in 1969, and Unit 1 (1,020 megawatts) began commercial operation in August 1975. Unit 2 (1,090 megawatts) started up in July 1978. The construction cost for both units was $1.3 billion.
The American Electric Power Service Corporation served as architect and engineer for the project, which included pressurized water reactors. The nuclear steam supply system for both units were designed and built by Westinghouse Corporation. The turbine generators for Unit 1 and Unit 2 were purchased from General Electric Company and Brown Boveri Corporation respectively.
The plant is owned and operated by AEP.
Fermi 2 - With twin cooling towers rising 400 feet, the plant near Monroe certainly has the highest profile of Michigan's nuclear plants.
The cost to construct the plant was also big: an astonishing $5.1 billion. The plant was built between 1970-85, but there was a period from 1974-77 when no work was performed, because of Detroit Edison's "poor financial situation," the utility said at the time.
When work resumed, more than 1,600 construction workers were employed at Fermi 2. Hardhats placed 300,000 cubic yards of concrete, 20,000 tons of steel, 1,220 miles of electric cable and 70 miles of conduit.
Rated at 1,100 megawatts, the boiling water reactor plant is owner DTE Energy's largest single unit. The plant came on line in July 1985.
Palisades - Located on about 490 acres south of South Haven on the Lake Michigan shore, Consumers Energy's Palisades Nuclear Power plant began commercial generation of electricity on Dec. 31, 1971.
Construction on the 760 megawatt pressurized water reactor began in March 1967 by Bechtel Power Corporation. The plant cost $149 million, and today produces about 18 percent of Consumers Energy's total electric capacity - enough to light up three cities the size of Grand Rapids.
Water taken from Lake Michigan at a rate of 390,000 gallons per minute is used to cool the plant, using a fan-forced draft system.
With the nation's unemployment rate jumping a whopping half percentage point to 5.4 percent from September to October, more and more workers are looking to Unemployment Insurance to get them through what will probably be a bumpy economy in the months ahead.
In Michigan, things are no different - the jobless rate is up to 5.3 percent, and prospects for a quick recovery are shaky. Unemployment insurance isn't much - but it's something, and it's still a safety net for jobless workers.
As we've been reporting, jobless insurance could provide a better safety net. In 1995, the Engler Administration and the Republican-led Michigan House and Senate froze statewide jobless benefits at a maximum of $300 per week, without any allowance for inflation. If that bill had not been passed into law, jobless benefits would stand at $414.39 per week - a difference of $2,974.14 for workers who are unemployed for the full 26-week benefit period.
In addition, Engler and the state lawmakers cut the weekly benefit rate from 70 percent of after-tax earnings to 67 percent. And, the state Republicans made it more difficult for low-income people to qualify for benefits, changing the minimum weekly earnings requirement from 20 times the state minimum wage to 30 times.
House Bill 4188, a measure sponsored by Davison Democrat Rose Bogardus, would restore the cuts made in 1995. It is currently stuck in the House Employment Relations and Training Committee, and has little hope of being moved with Republicans continuing to control power in Lansing.
In a statement last month to the House Democratic Task Force on labor issues, the Michigan State AFL-CIO noted that back in the early 1980s, Michigan's unemployment rate hovered at about 17 percent. Studies comparing the level of Michigan's benefits with neighboring states usually excluded Indiana, because the Hoosier state's were so low that they distorted the results.
"Times have changed," the state AFL-CIO said. On July 1, Indiana raised its maximum employment benefit to $312 per week. "That exceeded Michigan's maximum benefit of only $300 a week," said the Michigan AFL-CIO, "leaving us lowest among the Midwest states for maximum UI benefits."
It's a distinction we can live without.
For more information on contacting your state representative
or state senator, check out the Michigan AFL-CIO website, www.miaflcio.org.
Airport security to be federalized
President Bush announced Nov. 15 he would sign a legislative compromise that will place the U.S. government in charge of airport security, including making baggage screeners at airports federal employees.
The legislation that's expected to pass was very close to the one embraced in a bipartisan, 100-0 vote in the U.S. Senate, which placed airport security under federal control. But passage of the measure was delayed for weeks because hard-line Republicans in the U.S. House had a major problem with expanding the number of federal government employees - and with those new federal employees holding union cards. Republican leaders like House Majority Leader Dick Armey wanted the security workers to continue to be privatized (read: kept nonunion).
Republicans last month barely eked out a victory in the House that would keep the system private, but they never had public opinion on their side. The quality of airport security by private companies continues to be suspect, even after the events of Sept. 11.
"Safety comes first," said President Bush. "And when it comes to safety, we will set high standards and enforce them."
The only compromise in the deal was to allow local airports
to opt out of the government-run system after two years, and
then use private contractors overseen by federal supervisors.
It's an unlikely scenario. "I don't think any airport in
its right mind is going to be petitioning to return to a failed
system," said Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio.
Proceeds from the drawing go to the "Friends U Need" program operated by St. Rita's Church in Detroit. The program pays for dinner meals for underprivileged kids in their parish.
For the second straight year, the drawing is sponsored by Dan LaLonde, an Operating Engineers Local 324 member, and his wife Cynthia, of Pongracz Jewelers and Point Gemological Laboratory. It is being held in conjunction with the Greater Detroit Building Trades Council. Last year's drawing of an $8,000 ladies' tennis bracelet raised $10,010 for St. Rita's.
This year, the three separate prizes in the drawings include two diamond tennis bracelets and a Movado lady's watch, with a combined value of $7,000.
Tickets ($10) will be available at various union meetings
or at Pongracz Jewelers, 91 Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms,
one-half block south of Cottage Hospital. (313) 884-3325.