Curbing non-union construction labor in Iowa

Elk Run Energy Associates Thursday afternoon pledged to use the Waterloo Building Trades Council AFL-CIO as the primary source of manpower for construction of its proposed 750-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Waterloo (IA). The project labor agreement comes just five days prior to Tuesday's Waterloo Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission hearing that could determine the fate of the plant.

LS Power, parent company of Elk Run Energy Associates, will require the project's construction contractor to enter into an agreement with the trades council that will include stipulations for wages, hours, benefits and safety regulations for workers should the $1.3 billion project come to fruition.

A similar deal was struck by Alliant Energy in December for its proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown. Prior to the construction of the Isle Hotel and Casino in Waterloo the trades council forged a labor agreement with Isle of Capri officials.

"Since Elk Run Energy and LS power first came to the Cedar Valley looking to site a coal-fired power plant to provide energy for the region, we acknowledged at that point the broad and experienced work force that existed here in the Cedar Valley," said Mark Milburn, project development manager for Elk Run Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power. "And that was one of the things that drew us to this location."

At the peak of its construction process, the plant is expected to require 1,200 workers. The council, which represents 18 construction unions, said it will utilize both union and nonunion workers by recruiting workers through industrial development forums.

"This is a huge project, and it is obvious to me that there is plenty of work to go around," said Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley. "The support of the trades council will be very convincing to a lot of people who may be on the sidelines with regards to this project."

Buttons pledging support for the project were being handed out to workers from the labor unions represented by the trades council. Milburn recognized the importance of having the backing of the council, but said the timing with respect to Tuesday's Planning, Programming and Zoning hearing was coincidental.

"It wasn't planned that way, but it certainly is a nice benefit," said Milburn.

The project has drawn the ire of many community members, leading to the formation of an opposition group called Community Energy Solutions. Trades council President Ritchie Kurtenbach said the organization respects the opinions of its members, but he believes a large percentage will support the project.

"This was probably just about packing the room (with support) for future meetings," said Mark Kresowick, organizer for the Sierra Club National Coal Campaign in Iowa, a group that opposes the project, "but I don't think it will work."

Tuesday's zoning hearing will mark the second time the city has attempted to annex and rezone land for the project. Almost exactly one year ago, the commission narrowly approved LS Power's request to have the site annexed and rezoned, and the Waterloo City Council confirmed the commission's recommendation. But in October, the state's City Development Board rejected LS Power's request because owners of the land did not agree to the annexation.

This time around, approval of the City Development Board is not needed because LS Power holds an option on the land in question.


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