Transportation minister to meet with town on modules

Derek Montague and Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Province alters permits, gave Nalcor Energy OK to move through Happy Valley-Goose Bay

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath will meet with representatives for the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay today to discuss safety issues the town has raised. The issues are tied to construction of the province’s multibillion-dollar hydroelectric power plant at nearby Muskrat Falls.

Mayor Jamie Snook

The town has been at odds with Nalcor Energy over large pieces of what will become buildings at the Muskrat Falls site being transported through the town on the town’s main road.

Hamilton River Road is a provincial road, but is also the main thoroughfare that transverses Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

On Oct. 5, Nalcor began moving 30 modules by truck from the local port — the dock at Terrington basin — onto Hamilton River Road, through the town, onto the Trans-Labrador Highway, and on to Muskrat Falls.

When Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s new mayor, Jamie Snook, became aware the modules were at the dock, he requested the oversized loads be trucked via Goose River Road, rather than Hamilton River Road.

“Our main concern is safety, and we provided Nalcor with an alternative route to get through the municipality,” he said in an interview this week.

One of the concerns was emergency vehicles would not be able to get through town on Hamilton River Road if the construction works moving towards Muskrat Falls blocked the way.

However, Nalcor’s vice-president of the Lower Churchill Project, Gilbert Bennett, insists the Goose River Road isn’t safe for transporting the 64-foot long and 14.6-foot wide modules.

“(Goose River Road) was discussed to a pretty good length during the environmental assessment,” Bennett said.

“From our perspective, that road is not in very good condition, the road is certainly not suitable to carry large loads. … The Hamilton River Road and Trans-Labrador Highway are designed for this kind of activity (and) we view this as an entirely safe operation.”


With or without you

Snook said the same morning the modules arrived at the dock, representatives from the town and Nalcor began discussions on the issue of route. It was clear the two sides didn’t see eye-to-eye.

Snook said the modules started moving that night, without any further notice given to town officials.

“We were completely shocked, to be honest,” he said. “We started getting texts from the public, who were taking pictures of them as they made their way through (the) Spruce Park area. And that’s how we found out about it.”

According to information provided by Nalcor, the modules were shipped on Oct. 5-9, and Oct. 10.

Bennett said the contractor took precaution in moving the modules. He said all vehicles were equipped with flashing lights, flags, oversized-load signs, and that all the rigs had escort vehicles in the front and rear.

He said no modules were transported after daylight hours, nor were they moved during peak traffic periods within Goose Bay.

“The whole question of safety was first and foremost in our mind … (we are) satisfied that the appropriate precautions were put in place and that the work was done safely,” he said.


Permission and permitting

Town officials checked permits held by one of the vehicles being used to transport the modules. One staffer had the presence of mind to use their phone to snap a photo of the information held by the driver and the mayor has since posted the picture to his Facebook page: “Jamie Snook for Mayor.”

The image, taken in the dark, shows a print-out outlining restrictions on the transport. It states the vehicle “shall not be operated on any highway after daylight hours except as otherwise authorized in writing by the registrar or designate” and is not to be moved through a municipality, without the town’s permission.

“The Hamilton River Road and the Trans-Labrador Highway fall within the jurisdiction of the province and our permit requires us to get all necessary approvals,” Bennett said on the module move.

Those approvals came from the provincial government.

“Minister McGrath, in his capacity as Minister for Service Newfoundland and Labrador, did amend the permit for Nalcor to transport the modules via Hamilton River Road. Every safety precaution was taken by Nalcor,” reads a statement offered by a provincial government spokeswoman.

McGrath changed portfolios on Oct. 9, moving to head up the Department of Transportation and Works.

“Nalcor is correct in saying that, when it comes to jurisdiction, the province has (the jurisdiction) and access to both Hamilton River Road and the Trans-Labrador Highway,” he said in an interview.

He also said there will be many large shipments going through Happy Valley-Goose Bay and to Muskrat Falls over the next year and a half. He, like Bennett, does not view the alternate route suggested by the town as being a safe one for oversized loads.


More to come

Meanwhile, with other safety concerns, including having an instance of not being able to access the port site for required water testing, the Happy Valley-Goose Bay town council has decided to withdraw its participation from the Lower Churchill Community Liaison Committee.

Bennett says he wishes the council would stay on, so the council can use the committee to voice their concerns about the Muskrat Falls project.

“We’ve made several efforts to engage with council and those offers have not been accepted. So I do think we need to find a way to improve the level of dialogue,” he said.

Organizations: Trans-Labrador Highway, Service Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Transportation and Works Lower Churchill Community Liaison Committee

Geographic location: Hamilton River Road, Goose Bay, Happy Valley Muskrat Goose River Road Terrington Spruce Park

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