Dams And Whitewater

I read with great interest your feature on dam construction in South America, "Two Jobs Not for the Faint of Heart" (ENR 8/19 p. 30). Certainly these are very exciting and difficult projects. As a "construction person," I, like most of my peers, really enjoy seeing great projects. But having traveled and rafted in this wonderful region it is difficult to weigh the excitement of these projects with the loss taking place. The BioBio is one of the most spectacular river running locations in the world and Chile is seeking to dam it, much like the Futalafu River, considered by many to be the greatest river running location on the planet. If dams are erected, these tremendous resources will be lost forever.

Developing nations are struggling with providing affordable power for their economic development, but does it mean we must forsake some of the world’s greatest natural resources? China is on a similar path with Three Gorges Dam, and the United States has done this as well in our own Southwest. I urge those interested to further investigate these issues and develop insight into the challenges these regions face. One can find further information at places like: www.earthriver.com or www.american.edu/ projects/mandala/ted/ice/chiledam.htm.

The greatest whitewater runs in the world also have tremendous volume and gradient, making them the choicest for hydropower. But we need to learn from the past to build the future.

Davis-Bacon Realities

In a past article, "Homeland Security Bill Stalls Over Davis-Bacon Provisions," it is stated that traditional GOP opposition to Davis-Bacon may be softening, the battle lines may be "blurring," but that the issue is stalling the Homeland Security Bill (ENR 8/26 p. 9.) However true that assertion may or may not be, all U.S. taxpayers should fervently hope that the real, ongoing and costly distortion of Davis-Bacon law would someday be addressed properly by those in a position to do so.

That problem, of course, is the failure of the Dept. of Labor to properly determine prevailing wages according to the law in areas which have a mix of union and open shop contractors operating. The crux of the problem is that in areas [where there is a mix of open shop and union contractors], such as where our firm operates, DOL regularly uses only the union contract wage rates and sets them as the prevailing rate, instead of using a true multistage, weighted average procedure as called for by the law. As usually is the case, the devil is in the details.

Roughly speaking, 95% of the contracting firms and 70% or more of the construction workers in our area are open shop. However, prevailing wage rates set by DOL in our county are the full union rates. It makes no sense and unduly inflates every D-B project done in our county.

Make sure Davis-Bacon prevailing rates are determined properly. If that were to happen, federal project labor costs would not be unreasonably inflated in mixed areas, and maybe the opposition to Davis-Bacon would subside enough for it not to be so big an issue as to "stall" important initiatives like the Homeland Security Bill.


.A People item on the appointment of Steven J. Isaacs as principal consultant of The Coxe Group incorrectly stated the firm’s headquarters. The firm is headquartered in Seattle and Isaacs will be based in San Francisco (ENR 11/4 p. 23).