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September 28, 2007

Consumers Energy picks Karn/Weadock site for new $2B plant

Memorial dedicated to tunnel workers: 'to lift some heavy hearts'

North Terminal nearing its destination

Senate moves to prevent potential Mexican truck menace

Panel OK's bill overturning NLRB's 'workers are supervisors' ruling

Trades energize solar house project

News Briefs


Consumers Energy picks Karn/Weadock site for new $2B plant

ESSEXVILLE - Consumers Energy has selected the grounds of its Karn/Weadock Generating Complex near Bay City as the site for construction of an 800-megawatt coal power plant.

The cost of the plant is expected to exceed $2 billion, which would easily make it the largest construction project in Michigan in recent memory. Consumers Energy estimates that 1,800 construction jobs would be created at peak employment. If a few hurdles are crossed, the plant is expected to be in operation in 2015.

The announcement of the new plant came at a Sept. 14 new conference. "Consumers Energy has selected the Karn/Weadock Generating Complex to be the site of a new clean coal power plant to serve the growing electric needs of Michigan families and businesses in the 21st Century," said David Joos, the president and chief executive officer of CMS Energy, the parent company of Consumers Energy.

"Customer demand for electricity is growing at a steady pace in Michigan. To help meet that growing demand, Consumers Energy plans to double the amount of electricity from renewable sources that we supply to customers to 10 percent from 5 percent today. We're also working on ways to help customers lower the demand for power through new energy efficiency and demand management programs, which will help lower overall power costs," Joos said.

Throughout this decade, officials at Michigan's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, have warned that increasing electrical power demands have necessitated the construction of new power generation facilities in the state. The State of Michigan's own 21st Century Energy Plan calls for the creation of 5,000 megawatts of new baseload power plants between 2015 and 2025.

To meet that plan, the new plant at the Karn Weadock site would be just the start. The largest power plant in Michigan is DTE Energy's 3,000 megawatt Monroe Power Plant, constructed in 1974. DTE Energy hasn't built a new coal-fired plant since the Belle River Plant came online in 1985. The most recent Consumers Energy coal-burner to be lit was the J.H. Campbell Unit 3 near West Olive in 1980.

John Russell, the president and chief operating officer of Consumers Energy, said the Karn/Weadock Generating Complex was selected as the site of the new plant because of a number of factors, including the ability to ship in coal by rail or water, the proximity to customer load, and the size of the 1,000-acre site, which is large enough to add a new plant and still have the potential for a second new unit.

Announcement of the plant is only the first step. Environmental permits and permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission need to be obtained, as do tax abatements for the new plant.

In addition, both Consumers, DTE Energy and a group of businesses and organizations (including the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council) are part of a coalition calling for the repeal or reform of Michigan's electrical deregulation law which they say places an unfair burden on established utilities

Public Act 141 of 2000 introduced electrical choice to Michigan residents by allowing them to choose their own electricity provider. But the law also allows alternative energy providers to strip business customers from DTE and Consumers Energy, causing significant losses in earnings for the utilities.

DTE and Consumers say the law creates an uneven playing field: if a business or residence is too small or too far out of the way to be profitably serviced by an electrical provider, they can be ignored by everyone except the established utilities. The alternative power providers are allowed to cherry pick the utilities' best customers.

And, with an uncertain profit and customer base, the deregulation has created a disincentive for Consumers Energy and DTE Energy to build new power plants. In fact, the plant likely won't be built without the regulatory change.

"The announcement of this power plant construction is obviously great news for the building trades in Michigan," said Patrick Devlin, CEO of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. "Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have long been partners with construction unions, and we're going to try to help them by continuing to push for changing the unfair regulatory environment for utilities in Michigan, and hopefully that will ease the way for more powerhouse construction."

Consumers Energy's Russell said that a number of states have ended their experiments in electrical deregulation in order to allow power plant construction to move forward.

"Our customers are using 8 percent more electricity today than they were a decade ago, and the demand continues to grow," he said. "We need to invest in new, clean, efficient generation to meet those needs. If we don't, our customers will be exposed to higher, more volatile electricity market prices and lower reliability. In addition, new generation developed in Michigan means needed investment and jobs here rather than in other states."

THIS IS CONSUMERS ENERGY'S 2,138-megawatt Karn/Weadock plant, shown earlier this decade. With shipping docks and rail lines already leading to the plant - and with room for expansion - the site is ideal for construction of another powerhouse.


Memorial dedicated to tunnel workers: 'to lift some heavy hearts'

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

PORT HURON - More than 35 years after Michigan's worst construction accident claimed the lives of 22 workers, there was finally some closure for some of the victims' families on Aug. 31.

That's when a ceremony was held that included the unveiling of a bronze statue of a tunnel worker atop a granite pedestal inscribed with the names of the victims and a description of the tragedy. About 300 attended.

Debbie Comeau founded and chairs the group - the "1971 Water Tunnel Explosion Committee" - that led the five-year-long 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.

"The reason we did all of this was to lift some heavy hearts, and I think we accomplished that," Debbie Comeau said. "There were a lot of tears, but I think that the family members appreciated that something was done. One family member said she thought that a weight had been lifted, that until now they never really had a chance for closure."

The focus of the memorial is on the bronze statue which depicts 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 is surrounded by paver bricks formed in a circle with the names of well-wishes who paid to have their names inscribed on bricks, which offset the cost of the monument.

Comeau said the group raised about $60,000 for the monument - $10,000 more than the actual cost. She said the remaining $10,000 will be placed in an endowment for maintenance of the site.

"We were able to do this with the support of the unions and the community," Comeau said. "It was truly community built - other than the cost of the statue, we had so many donations of time, machines and equipment."

The memorial is located in Port Gratiot Township on the shores of Lake Huron, directly above the water intake.

The lives were lost on Dec. 11, 1971. According to an account by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Detroit's northernmost water intake was nearing completion, as vertical drilling operations inside a cofferdam on Lake Huron were taking place, 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 were continuing finishing operations within the tunnel's last unlined mile at the shore end.

Meanwhile out at the cofferdam, 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 that day.

The men in the tunnel didn't know about the drilling that was planned. The workers on the drilling platform thought the tunnel was empty. A 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.

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 force compared to a shotgun blast traveled down the length of the tunnel, killing 21 workers, and another worker died about 10 months later. They were more than four-and-one-half miles from the explosion's epicenter.

Now, above the tunnel, there's a quiet spot near Lake Huron that's established in the workers' memory.

"I think it's fantastic, it's a beautiful park, very peaceful, and the artist did a phenomenal job," said Cherie Darmis, who was married to 21-year-old laborer Don Fogal when he was killed inside the tunnel. "We waited a long time for it. I just wanted to have a place where he will be remembered."

(Debbie Comeau is still accepting contributions for the maintenance of the memorial. She can be reached at (810) 982-4826).

UNVEILED ON Aug. 31, this statue depicts a typical tunnel worker, or "mucker" in 1971. It was made to honor the 22 construction workers who were killed in the Port Huron Tunnel explosion that year - the worst construction accident in Michigan's history. The work is by California sculptor Paula Slater. The names of the deceased workers are on the base.

Photo by Paul Gomez, Detroit Water and Sewage Division


North Terminal nearing its destination

ROMULUS - One year from now, airline passengers at Metro Airport's North Terminal will be checking luggage, getting tickets, enjoying a latte, wandering the concourse and waiting for their plane to take them somewhere else.

The building trades, the joint venture of Barton Malow and Walbridge-Aldinger and their subcontractors are right on track in the process of creating the new $426 million, 850,000 square-foot terminal, which will replace aging Berry and Smith Terminals.

Passengers from Northwest Airlines and three other carriers have been enjoying the new mile-long midfield McNamara Terminal since it opened in 2002. The new 35-gate North Terminal will serve passengers for Air Canada, American, AirTran, British Airways, Frontier, Lufthansa, Royal Jordanian, Southwest, Spirit, United, US Airways, and USA 3000.

"We're doing well, we've had good weather and we're moving along," said Paul Tantalo, project manager for Barton Malow. "The union tradespeople have been excellent, everyone is out here to work and get the job done."

About 450 tradespeople are currently on the job, "doing just about everything," Tantalo said. Siding, roofing, mechanical, windows, and paving are all being performed.

Tantalo said "managing the changes" remains the day to day challenge on the project. As construction has progress, dissimilarities in electrical and mechanical drawings, for example, have required some on-the-fly adjustments to where ducts, pipes and conduit are located.

He said budget constraints have somewhat downsized the terminal, shrinking the floor space and the space allotted for mechanical systems. He said building trades workers and their subs have helped handle the changes - and have worked more than 600,000 man-hours without a lost-time incident. "That's an excellent safety record," he said. "It's a testament to everybody's positive attitude about safety."

According to Wayne County Airport Authority, the new terminal, which was originally going to have 26 gates for aircraft, "will complete the airport's mission of modernizing the entire airport terminal complex and create a world-class facility that provides the type of services all our passengers and visitors deserve."

The North Terminal will have two levels. The upper level will have ticket areas, luggage check-in, security, shops and restaurants. The lower level will be reserved for baggage and security functions.

"With its simple linear design and modern conveniences, the north terminal will represent
a significant upgrade in customer convenience compared to the Smith and Berry Terminals," said airport authority CEO Lester Robinson, when the project began. "It will also provide a considerable improvement in efficiency for the airlines."

Completion of the North Terminal is scheduled for Sept. 18, 2008.

A GROUP OF LABORERS from Cadillac Asphalt pave the apron next to the North Terminal. Planes will park here, and jetways will soon be built into the terminal. There will be 18 inches of asphalt, topped by 20 inches of concrete. Below it all is 20 inches of aggregate.


Senate moves to prevent potential Mexican truck menace

WASHINGTON (PAI) - By a 74-24 margin, the U.S. Senate on Sept. 11 voted to ban uninspected Mexican trucks from U.S. roads.

The vote was an attempt to sidetrack a "pilot program" by the Bush Administration that lets Mexican big rigs from up to 100 selected firms roll over all U.S. roads, not just those within 25 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Those firms are supposed to meet federal rules concerning driver fatigue, truck inspections, safety inspections and drug and alcohol tests for the drivers.

The Bush regime said it would let the Mexican rigs roll even though a Transportation Department Inspector General's (IG) report issued on Sept. 6 said none of the conditions had been met. That report was issued late in the afternoon, but an hour later the Bush Transportation Department announced it wanted the program to start.

That led some senators to charge that the Bush Administration was determined to let the Mexican trucks roll, and endanger U.S. drivers, without waiting for the facts.

"This administration is so anxious to move that they took only one hour to evaluate the IG report," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) "They tell us: 'Don't worry, be happy. We have all this under control.' I think we have had enough of those 'trust us' claims. How about verifying just a bit some of the basic information we need to know?" about the Mexican trucks, he asked.

The Teamsters have lobbied against allowed Mexican trucks on U.S. roads for the past year. The Mexican drivers' qualifications and the mechanical integrity of their trucks are one concern. Another issue is that American drivers would balk mightily at taking their rigs onto Mexican roads, where law enforcement is spotty and banditos are a real concern.

The construction industry could be among those impacted: One of the first deliveries by one of the Mexican truck drivers was steel, to a construction site in North Carolina.

The Teamsters union said according to the Inspector General's report, the Bush administration does not require U.S. inspectors to verify licenses of drivers who are not citizens of the United States or Mexico.

"We don't know who these drivers are and we don't know what they're bringing in," said Teamsters President James Hoffa. "The weapons of mass destruction George Bush is looking for could be in the backs of these trucks. The Bush administration's pilot program to allow unsafe Mexican trucks to share the highways with American drivers is dangerous, illegal and a threat to national security."


Panel OK's bill overturning NLRB's 'workers are supervisors' ruling

WASHINGTON (PAI) - Ultimately, it's a vote whose purpose will probably only illustrate the difference between typically union-friendly Democrats and anti-union Republicans.

By a 26-20 party-line vote 11 months after the rulings were issued, the Democratic-run House Education and Labor Committee voted Sept. 19 to overturn the National Labor Relations Board's "workers are supervisors" decisions.

If approved by Congress and signed by anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush - an unlikely prospect - the legislation would bar companies from arbitrarily declaring up to 34 million U.S. workers as "supervisors," who would be unprotected by labor law and open to harassment, firing, arbitrary management decisions and even forced participation in anti-union campaigns.

Nurses who assign other nurses and employees to tasks were the focus of the NLRB's "Kentucky River" rulings, but it's widely anticipated that job assignments made by foremen and even journeymen in the construction industry could also result in their being labeled a "supervisor," and ineligible for union representation.

The legislation, HR 1644 by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) says any worker who "assigns" another worker to do something for short periods of time - such as charge nurses assigning aides or construction workers teaching apprentices - or "has a responsibility to direct" another worker is not a supervisor. HR 1644 also says a person has to be a supervisor a majority of his or her working time to be considered a supervisor, unprotected by labor law.

Andrews said his bill "will overturn the misguided decision of the NLRB in the Kentucky River trilogy and restore the law back to Congress' original intent. The affirmative vote of all of my Democratic colleagues will protect the right to organize and collectively bargain for millions of American workers."

Right Wing Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), the panel's top Republican, called the legislation "a transparent attempt by Big Labor to increase the ranks of dues-paying union members."

The Bush-named Republican majority on the NLRB, in the Kentucky River decisions, named for the nursing home that first claimed its nurses are supervisors, said nurses could be supervisors if they undertook supervisory duties as little as 10%-15% of the time.

And any one of 12 duties, including hiring, firing, evaluation, ordering a lower-ranking staffer to do something, and so on, could make a worker a supervisor.


Trades energize solar house project

By Marty Mulcahy
Managing Editor

SOUTHFIELD - Students at Lawrence Tech University participating in the Solar Decathlon 2007 have easy access to the plans, theories and textbooks that address energy efficient construction techniques.

Not-so-readily available is the expertise of construction workers willing to give their time to turn the students' plans and blueprints into reality, which, in this case, comes in the form of a small house that's being constructed on a back parking lot at LTU.

But a handful of helpful union trades workers are working in their off hours to help the students construct a house that's a model of energy efficiency, which will be entered into a contest next month in Washington D.C.

"I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning," said Clarice Westman, a 25-year-old LTU senior who is working on the house - as well as on her dual major of architecture and civil engineering. "We've all learned a lot, but with their expertise, the pros are saving our butts."

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Solar Decathlon 2007 is an international project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Twenty student teams from universities and colleges across the North America and Europe compete to design, build, and display a highly energy-efficient solar-powered home as part of a "solar village" that will be erected on the National Mall in Washington.

Lawrence Tech is the smallest school in the contest, and the only one from Michigan.

With help from carpenters, electricians, operating engineers and sheet metal workers - everyone involved is quick to point out that this is a student-led project - the 800-square-foot house is coming together nicely. The contest requires that the completed house be disassembled, trucked to Washington, D.C. and then be reassembled for the competition.

"Building it would be a lot easier if it just stayed in one place, it adds to the complexity having to come apart at different areas and then be reassembled," said the student construction manager, Larry Bukowski, who is a senior studying construction management. "But you can only learn so much in a classroom, and this project has taught me a lot about what can go right and wrong, and relating with architects and engineers" (who are fellow students).

Some of the energy efficient features of the house include:

*Thirty six 200-watt photovoltaic solar panels on the house, which provide a potential source of 7.2 kilowatts of electricity. Design plans say the panels will often provide enough electricity to power the house, and charge batteries for use when the sun isn't making an appearance. Designers say the house would need to be connected to the power grid and may need electricity from the utility during the winter months.

*The house will be heated via a solar thermal system. The sun heats water/glycol- filled copper tubes that are wrapped by solar collectors. The solution in the tubes will transfer heat to a manifold, and then coils in a water tank, which acts as the reservoir for potable water and the heating system.

Heat is transferred throughout the house via tubes in a radiant floor system.

*Glass in the doors turns dark when the sun is out, just like some eyeglass lenses, to shade out the sun.

*The home will be illuminated by energy-saving fluorescent and LEDs lights.

*The house's walls are construction of structurally insulated panels, which replace typical framing materials. The panels consist of two layers of OSB laminated to opposite sides of insulating foam.

The after-hours construction process with volunteer labor is proceeding haltingly, but it's moving along, said Rick Hoste of IBEW Local 58. He credited fellow journeyman Steve Huck for his leadership on the project and Centerline Electric with providing materials and equipment. The Local 58 Training Center put a photovoltaic program in place last year to teach members about solar power.

The Michigan Regional Carpenters Council has also been a major contributor.

Hoste said the role of the professional electricians, under the rules of the competition, has been to assist the students in pulling wire, bending conduit and making final hookups and terminations.

"It's a pretty informal setting," Hoste said. "The kids give us drawings and designs, we talk to them, hash things out, and we might help them tweak things a bit and provide the tools of the trades, but it's basically their job. The kids are great. They have a lot of energy.

THE SOLAR HOUSE has photovoltaic panels on the roof to create electricity.

IBEW Local 58ers Rick Hoste, left, and Sean Houghton mark a section of conduit before cutting it, while working at the back of the house. Between them is LTU student Brandon Butler.


News Briefs

Ayres elected new BCTD president
Mark Ayers, Director of the Construction and Maintenance Department of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) was elected as the new President of the Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO (BCTD).

Ayers, who will succeed retiring BCTD President Edward C. Sullivan on October 1, was confirmed during a September 6 meeting of the BCTD Governing Board of Presidents. Sean McGarvey will stay on as secretary-treasurer.

"I look forward to addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities that present themselves to the union construction industry," said Ayres. "…I will do all that I can to enhance our stature as the world's number one choice for quality, skilled labor in the construction industry."

Prior to his tenure as director of the IBEW Construction and Maintenance Division, Ayres was the business manager and financial secretary for IBEW Local 34 in Peoria, Illinois. A Navy veteran, Ayres also served as secretary-treasurer of the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.

The AFL-CIO Building Trades Department is an alliance of unions representing about three million members

Ayres elected new BCTD president
WASHINGTON (PAI) - Despite a Democratic majority in Congress, the anti-prevailing wage sentiment is never far from bubbling up.

By a 56-37 vote on September 12, the U.S. Senate killed a GOP attempt to ban prevailing wages on federal highway, bridge and construction projects. The attempt, by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), was an amendment to the Transportation Department money bill senators debated and approved.

The federal prevailing wage law has number of benefits, including leveling the playing field for bidding contractors and maintaining a living wage for construction workers. Senate Labor Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who helped lead the fight against DeMint's move, took another tack, calling the presence of prevailing wage laws a good safety measure.

"When you drive to work in the mornings, you want your roads and bridges to be safe. When your children ride the bus to school, you don't want to wonder if the bridges are safe. That's why our laws require workers for those jobs to be paid the prevailing wage--so it's not only fair for the workers but so we can assure the public that the work done is of highest quality.

"That's what the Davis-Bacon laws are all about….This amendment would do the opposite. Instead of making our nation's highways safer, it would endanger the lives of the public by attacking quality construction," he declared.

The Davis-Bacon Act, passed by a GOP-run Congress in 1931, orders that locally prevailing wages, measured by the Labor Department, must be paid to workers on federally funded construction projects such as bridges, highways and airports.

During the last 12 years of GOP congressional rule, anti-worker Republicans tried to get Davis-Bacon dumped, but lobbying by building trades unions and defections by moderates defeated them. And President George W. Bush tried to dump Davis-Bacon for post-Katrina reconstruction. Lobbying forced him to retreat, too.


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