September 28, 2007
picks Karn/Weadock site for new $2B plant
to tunnel workers: 'to lift some heavy hearts'
North Terminal nearing
Senate moves to
prevent potential Mexican truck menace
Panel OK's bill
overturning NLRB's 'workers are supervisors' ruling
solar house project
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
"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
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
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
dedicated to tunnel workers: 'to lift some heavy hearts'
By Marty Mulcahy
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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.
energize solar house project
By Marty Mulcahy
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
*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
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
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
"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
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
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
"That's what the Davis-Bacon laws are all about
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.