Introducing Idea for Hydro Plant to Local Union and Labor Organizations

Today I presented my brief audio/slide Power Point show, “The Sustaining Waters of the Sheggwe” at the St Joe Valley Building and Construction Trades Council meeting. Present were leaders of various union contractors and labor organizations. Robin Forsythe, a union plumber with Local 172, facilitated the opportunity for me to speak to this group.

The slide show is a history of the river’s importance to our city’s birth and its potential for hydroelectric power on the East Race. “Green energy” projects such as the East Race hydroelectric generator are a natural fit for union support; union contractors pay living wages, health insurance and retirement benefits to their members. Human rights for workers is every bit as important for achieving sustainability as is ensuring our energy sources are clean and renewable.

Gary Gilot, South Bend’s Director of Public Works followed up with additional information about the East Race hydro project. According to Mr. Gilot, the city has received the updated feasibility information from Lawson-Fisher Associates. Mr. Gilot noted that the design of the generator includes three turbines, two which would be turned by the river’s flow at all times and a third that would act as a back-up. Mr. Gilot envisioned that the third turbine could be utilized during periods when the river was high, such as during a rain storm. If the hydro plant’s electricity was used to power the water treatment facility, this surge in energy provided by the river would dovetail nicely with the water treatment’s higher demand for electricity during storms. Mr. Gilot also reported that the city is composing proposals for various entities in the city such to try to secure corporate sponsorship for this project. He noted that certain not-for-profits may be interested in adding “green energy” in their portfolios.

Jim Scheetz, President of the Building Trades and Business Agent for Plumbers and Pipe-fitters Local 172 agreed that labor organizations could support a project like this in South Bend. Mr. Sheets noted that he would write letters of support for the hydro project to Mayor Steve Luecke as well as Congressman Joe Donnelly and too let these elected officials know that labor organizations support a “green energy” project such as this. The East Race hydroelectric generator could be a win-win project for all entities involved.

Robin and I plan to meet within two weeks to form a strategy for taking this idea to the next step for labor support.

Stay tuned.