Massive Cooling Plant Shows Power of Partnership

Success was a matter of degrees for members of the Mid-South Regional Council who recently completed building a record-large cooling tower for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant.

Key to the job’s positive legacy is the high degree of cooperation between union carpenters and the contractor, Composite Cooling Solutions, a Fort Worth, Texas-based designer, engineer, and builder of cooling towers.

The skill and productivity of Mid-South carpenters on this $80 million Athens, Ala., project can be calculated directly by taking the temperature of the water that flows from the cooling system into the Tennessee River. Browns Ferry, which was the world’s largest nuclear plant when it opened in 1974, draws water from the Tennessee River, uses it to help cool its three reactors, and sends it back to the river. The cooling tower is used to cool the water before it leaves the plant.

Union carpenters and millwrights logged 55,000 hours over five months on the project, and had no serious injuries.

Michael Boner, executive secretary treasurer of the Mid-South Regional Council, said executives from Composite Cooling Solutions were extremely impressed with the work they got from the carpenters, adding that the company was a good employer, as well. “This company treats people as well as any company I’ve ever seen,” Boner said.

The project’s spirit of teamwork was reflected in a myriad examples—both large and small. Popsicles, Gatorade, and bottles of water appeared during the sweltering northern Alabama summer in company-provided coolers. Pizza parties and Southern barbecues (with UBC members behind the grills) marked milestones on the job.

And company officials kept communication flowing with their workers.

“The people we worked for were concerned if there were issues. If we thought of a way to do something better, they would look at that,” said Robert Haddock, a journeyman carpenter with Local 1209 in Florence, Ala., who was one of the first carpenters on the Browns Ferry job. “They were good to us, and we worked as hard as we could for them.”

“It was a true success for everybody involved, and the carpenters played the key,” said Salvatore DeBiase, site project supervisor for Composite Cooling Solutions. “The union gave us 100 percent support,” said DeBiase, who credits everyone involved in the project with creating “an environment of partnership, relationship, and respect.”

UBC carpenters and millwrights did almost all of the construction, starting with layout on the ground to working on 50-foot scissor lifts. “The components come numbered like an erector set,” said Don Finley, business representative for Local 1209. “We did the rigging, put in all the panels, all the fill, all the walls, all the stairwells, and millwrights installed the fans.”