Thursday, August 03, 2006

Senate To Tunnel Rats: "Get Back In There And Suck It Up"

I've written a couple of times now (hereand here) about the 100 year old utility tunnels between the US Capitol building that are caving in and filled with crumbling asbestos, and how Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman admitted that he had not done enough to protect workers. Capitol management had apparently known for years about the asbestos, but hadn't even warned the workers to wear respirators. Recently they received medical examinations that show evidence that the asbestos may have already damaged their health.

Yesterday, one of the "tunnel rats," the workers that labor in the tunnels, left a cryptic comment on my last post saying "well, bad news today as the Senator told us to get back in the hole and suck it up............."

Today, The Hill newspaper explains what's going on:
During an oversight hearing examining the construction progress of the Capitol Visitor Center Wednesday morning, a key Senate appropriator indicated that the hearings would no longer include in-depth discussions about the dangerous conditions of the crumbling utility tunnels located underneath the Capitol complex.

"We got involved in the tunnel issue because of [its] attachment to the Capitol Visitor Center" and the impact the tunnels would have on the project, Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) said.

Allard, who chairs the Legislative Branch subcommittee that held the hearing, said that the discussion regarding the dangerous conditions inside tunnels would be better served in a different forum.

What that forum would be and whether the Legislative Branch subcommittee would hold additional hearings on the multi-million dollar tunnel restoration process was unclear.
The original purpose of the hearings was to investigate the costs overruns, delays and alleged mismanagement associated with building the Capitol Visitor Center, not to deal with these bothersome worker health problems.

In other words, 'run along and don't keep bothering us.'
Members of the tunnel crew, seated in the back of the hearing room, walked out as it became clear that the panel was not going to address their concerns about continued exposure to asbestos and their working conditions.

"Are they just done with us?" one member of the 10-man crew asked after the hearings.
Yeah, they're done with you. The Senate adjourns tomorrow. They'll be back for a couple of weeks before the elections, but I wouldn't bank on them finding "a different forum" to deal with these issues by then.