Union pickets EPA river cleanup
BY RYAN LEWIS
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 is hoping to draw attention to the fact that the Kalamazoo River cleanup effort is using Montana-based Envirocon instead of Michigan
contractors. Several of the union’s members have begun displaying a banner at the entrance to the project’s staging area along M89, west of Otsego, on weekdays since Wednesday, May 17.
It reads, “Shame on Georgia Pacific, Shame on Envirocon.” Georgia-Pacific is one of three companies that inherited the responsibility for the cleanup, as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection agency. The other two are Weyerhaeuser and International Paper.
Because the river’s flow was eroding riverbank containing the carcinogen PCB, the EPA ordered a time-critical removal action. The $25 million project began last summer on the south bank near Pine Creek. It is scheduled to wrap up next year with the removal of what remains of the Otsego Township dam along with a water control structure put in place by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The three paper companies are footing the bill for the project. Dan McKernan, communications director for Operating Engineers Local 324, said his organization represents approximately 15,000 members and wanted to voice displeasure at Envirocon being hired to do the work. McKernan said, “They hired an out-of-state firm to come and do the work. There’s at least one Michigan company that could do the same thing and weren’t even offered a shot at it.”
Joe Schippa of Grandville was standing with the banner Thursday, May 19. He said “We feel it was wrong to outsource the general contracting to Montana when we’ve got one here in Kalamazoo.”
Schippa said all of the benefits of the work and related spending go out of the state, between rental cars, equipment and the work itself.
“Whereas our contractor here spends locally,” he said.
Don Hunt, the project spokesman with the firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates, represents the companies involved in the work.
Hunt said, “Five large specialized environmental remediation contractors were invited to bid on the project. One finalist was a Michigan based company, but they were ultimately not selected.
“The current project relies upon the services of at least 30 local Michigan companies and the selected contractor (Envirocon) has hired many local employees.
“The selection of Envirocon was made by the entire group after a review of all submissions, with primary criteria being safety, quality, experience, personnel, approach and cost—among others.”
The union hopes in-state companies would be given a chance to bid on future parts of this project and other projects of this nature in Michigan. EPA project coordinator Paul Ruesch said the dam removal portion of the project had yet to have a signed bid; Envirocon was in the process of pricing out the next two portions of the work.
Hunt, on behalf of the project, said, “This is something the team is evaluating on a continual basis—if there are opportunities, qualified local contractors would certainly be able to submit bids.”
Asked why the union was not out picketing the project when it began, McKernan said the organization had still been in the process of learning about it.
Asked how long the protest was scheduled to last, McKernan said there was no scheduled end-date; the goal was merely to bring attention to the issue.
Ruesch said the picketing has not caused any delays in the project.