Social Assessment of High Technology: The Superconducting Super Collider in Southeast Michigan2


The President of the United States announced in January 1987 that the federal government would proceed with plans to build the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). The siting procedure would begin with the Department of Energy (DOE) issuing a Request For Proposals (RFP) in early April 1987. The RFP specified the types of information required for assessing which states have the best potential sites for the SSC. State responses to the RFP were due back to the DOE in August 1987. It was expected that the components of the RFP would correspond with those outlined in the 1985 SSC siting parameters document (SSC Central Design Group 1985:27-48). Each state was expected to provide findings relating to the following siting criteria: (1) setting, (2) environment, (3) geology and tunneling, (4) community resources, (5) utilities, (6) man-made disturbances, (7) climate, and (8) cost and schedule. One of the community resources criteria is “community support.” According to the 1985 siting parameters document:

 Community support will pay an important role in the ultimate success of the SSC. It will actively seek the support of the surrounding communities by establishing a good-neighbor policy. It is important to determine at an early stage what community support exists and how strong any opposition might be to siting the SSC in a region (SSC Central Design Group 1985:42).

The Governor of the State of Michigan announced on March 13, 1987, that the state would actively prepare a response to the DOE’s request for SSC proposals. By the end of March 1987, Senate Bill No. 169—to create the Michigan superconducting super collider commission—had been drafted and public hearings on it were underway. In addition, on March 14, 1987, the first large-scale public information hearings were held in Monroe County.

Scholars at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan were contracted to do a series of social impact assessments of the SSC. Professors Michael W. Traugott and Richard W. Stoffle headed the research which uniquely combined qualitative cultural anthropology interviews with small numbers of local people followed by large scale randomly selected phone interviews which were followed by further highly selective qualitative interviews and focused groups. This collection contains both SIA reports, which were completed in 1986 and 1987. These social studies were virtually unique because of the size and complexity of the proposed Super Conducing Supercollider and the iterative mixing of qualitative anthropology and quantitative survey research methods. The siting process was also unique for this time period because it placed emphasis on Community Support of the SSC. While it was never certain why Community Support was such an important siting variable, our analysis and work with the SSC design team suggested it was because the SSC would bring thousands of physicists and engineers to live in a science community located in a very rural environment and both scientist and farmer would need to be happy with the presence of the other for it to work out well.

In addition to conducting formal impact assessments, the authors of these reports participated in dozens of public meetings in order to discuss the SSC. During these meetings people raised issues that cause them to either support or reject the concept of the SSC. Only one broad type of issue has been raised in these meetings that is not contained in this report—relocation of homes from the proposed SSC site. Relocation was a possibility when this study was conducted in the summer of 1986. However, it was not clear then how many and what kinds of relocation could be expected; for this reason it was a topic that received little attention. After the release of the Gilbert/Commonwealth engineering report (Gilbert/Commonwealth 1986:95) it became apparent that the SSC could result in the relocation of as many as 200 homes. This is an obvious omission from this scoping report and it was to be a central consideration in the second SIA research. On the other hand, all of the other issues raised in these meetings have been articulated in this report.

A number of SSC design changes occurred after the first SIA that were important in assessing its social impacts. The first change is the size of the ring, which was increased from 52 miles to 53 miles. This caused the Gilbert/Commonwealth engineers to reconsider the two hypothetical ring configurations present in the first report. Second, the size of the space to be allocated for the SSC campus was been reduced from 5,000 acres to 2,500. This greatly reduced adverse impacts and increased the flexibility in placing this campus so that fewer homes would have to be relocated. Third, the cost advantages of the “cut and fill” method of construction were offset by the problem of handling the high ground water, so more miles of soft tunneling were considered. Soft tunneling reduces home relocation as well as solving other engineering problems.

These three changes did not significantly alter our assessment of the social and cultural benefits and costs of the SSC in Monroe and Lenawee Counties. The changes were, however, significant new developments that could be used to mitigate some of the perceived impacts.These two SIA reports have been produced through the resources and efforts of many people with agencies. The authors would like to recognize Todd Anuskiewicz, Research Director, Tom Anderson, Vice President, and John Mogk, President, of MERRA, who provided the funds for the study and served to coordinate all of the SSC environmental impact studies. Guidance and additional funds were provided by Larry Jones, Chairman of Department of Physics at the University of Michigan. Local guidance by public officials came from Royce Maniko, Planning Director, Monroe County Planning Commission; Bill Mears, President, Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation; John Williams, Dundee Village President; and Jon Weaver, Dundee Village Planner. In order to protect the confidentiality of information provided by private citizens who participated in this study, none of their names can be mentioned. Nonetheless, without their confidence and support this study would not have been possible.

The SSC project resulted in the publication of the following chapters, articles, and reports (on the formal technical reports are incorporated into this collection):

Stoffle, R. W., M. Traugott, C. Harshbarger, F. Jensen, M. Evans, and P. Drury
2000 Risk Perception Shadows: The Superconducting Super Collider in Michigan. In Classics of Practicing Anthropology 1978-1998. P. Higgins and A. Paredes, eds. OK: Society for Applied Anthropology.

Stoffle, R. W., M Traugott, J. Stone, P. McIntyre, F. Jensen, and C. Davidson
1991 Risk Perception Mapping: Using Ethnography To Define The Locally Affected Population For A Low-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Facility in Michigan. American Anthropologist 93(3): 611-635.

Stoffle, R. W., M. Traugott, C. Harshbarger, F. Jensen, M. Evans, and P. Drury
1988 Risk Perception Shadows: The Superconducting Super Collider in Michigan. Practicing Anthropology 10(3-4): 6-7.

Stoffle, R. W., M. Traugott, C. Harshbarger, F. Jensen, M. Evans, and P. Drury
1988 The Superconducting Super Collider at the Stockbridge, Michigan Site: Community Support and Land Acquisition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.

Stoffle, R. W., M. Traugott, F. Jensen, and R. Copeland
1987 Social Assessment of High Technology: The Superconducting Super Collider in Southeast Michigan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.


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