The high cost of failing infrastructure

The high cost of failing infrastructure
Jim Varnum's flooded house.

From the USW 

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Residents of Midland, Mich., will spend months rebuilding their homes and their lives after the failure of two dams triggered massive flooding along the Tittabawassee River in May.

The tragedy is a grim reminder of America’s pressing need to upgrade infrastructure like the aging Edenville Dam, which broke during a heavy storm and unleashed a torrent of water that caused a second impoundment to fail as well.

The flooding damaged or destroyed more than 2,500 buildings. The cleanup will cost an estimated $200 million—money that would have better spent upgrading Michigan’s dams and averting disaster.

USW Local 12075, which represents about 850 workers at the Dow-DuPont-Corteva-Trinseo-Sk Saran complex in Midland, has numerous members affected by the flooding. While some only had to mop up water in their basements others experienced major damage or even lost their homes.

“We definitely need to put money into infrastructure because things are falling apart,” lamented Local 12075 Vice President Jim Varnum, who works at DuPont.

Varnum and his family are living in a camper while they repair their home. They already installed the floors, drywall and insulation. Now, they’re ordering doors, kitchen cabinets, beds and other furniture.

Federal regulators long complained that Boyce Hydro Power LLC, owner of both dams, refused to make critically needed improvements to the Edenville structure.

But many other dams across the country also are aging, in poor condition and at risk of collapsing.

“Without the government putting emphasis on fixing our infrastructure—roads, dams, bridges, water system, etc.—we’re going to see more disasters like what happened to Midland and the surrounding area,” Varnum said.

Posted In: Union Matters

Union Matters

Powering America

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

Fierce thunderstorms, heavy snows and unusually powerful hurricanes ravaged America’s fragile power grid and plunged millions into darkness this year.

And even as these natural disasters wreaked havoc across the country, COVID-19 stay-at-home orders sparked a surge in residential electrical demand, placing new stress on a failing system.

A long-overdue overhaul of the nation’s electrical infrastructure would not only ensure America continues functioning during a crisis but help to reinvigorate the pandemic-shattered economy.

Built in the 1950s and 60s, most of America’s electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure lives on borrowed time. Engineers never designed it to withstand today’s increasingly frequent and catastrophic storms fueled by climate change, let alone the threats posed by hackers and terrorists.

To ensure a reliable power supply for homes, schools and businesses, America needs to invest in a more resilient, higher capacity grid.

That means either burying electrical lines or insulating above-ground wires and replacing wooden utility poles with structures made of steel or concrete. Other strategies include creating a battery-storage system to provide backup power, building coastal barriers to protect infrastructure against storm surge and further diversifying into wind and solar production.

Also, a shift toward more localized generation and distribution networks would limit the impact of any one power outage.

Making these upgrades with U.S.-made materials and labor will both stimulate the economy and protect national security. American steelworkers, tradespeople and manufacturing workers have the expertise to build a power grid strong enough to weather whatever storms come America’s way.

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