Willow Island 30 Years Later

Willow Island Front PageThirty years ago today, on April 27, 1978, 51 workers died tragically and unnecessarily in the deadliest construction accident in U.S. history at the Willow Island power plant in Pleasants County, WV.

Although we were living in Tennessee at the time, I remember driving by the plant not long after the accident on our way to visit my grandparents in Paden City. You can still see where the ring marks the spot on the 2nd cooling tower where construction was halted for 17 months.

Now that West Virginia is my home, each time I drive by when I am in the area, I remember those days. For that part of the Ohio Valley, this was their 9/11. Just as the Silver Bridge collapse resonates in Point Pleasant. Just as the Buffalo Creek flood is remembered in southern WV, the Marshall plane crash in Huntington, and more recently the tragedy at Sago.

They are all tragedies, and all have some common elements beyond their loss in human life.  

Each resulted in changes to protect workers and others. Unfortunately, they also were followed by their fair share of foot dragging and blaming workers (or pilots). Corporate responsibility was minimal at best, and reforms that would protect lives were less than swiftly implemented.

In the case of Willow Island, it was not until 1990, 12 years after the tragedy that OSHA finally adopted revised scaffolding rules prompted by the collapse. It also took 10 long years, until 1988, for new rules on concrete and masonry construction, which weren't adopted until after 28 more workers died in the collapse of the L'Ambiance Plaza, a 16-story apartment complex in Bridgeport, Conn.

Unfortunately, my beloved state of West Virginia has too many tragedies and not enough proactive action to help the workers whose lives are deemed less important than corporate profit. On the eve of Workers' Memorial Day, our policy makers seem more interested in "Unleashing Capitalism" in WV than helping ensure that future tragedies are avoided.  

Did you know that 47 workers died in WV during the past year?  That's almost another Willow Island's worth of personal tragedy, but almost no one is paying attention.

Making matters worse is the current status of our WV Supreme Court, where it's become acceptable for a Justice to take a European vacation with Paul Bearer Don Blankenship, in addition to election activities that are now the stuff of a John Grisham novel.

Since fact is proving stranger than fiction in WV (again), perhaps we can convince the fictional character of Alan Shore from Boston Legal to speak to the WV Supreme Court as he does in this great clip featuring his arguments before Justice Roberts and the other Supremes.

Give 'em hell counselor!

Cross posted at WVaBlue.com.