Residents jobless after failed Muskrat Falls contract

Great Western Forestry and Nalcor Energy not commenting on project work, bills

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on December 3, 2013
Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River in Labrador.
— Telegram file photo

The accommodations were OK, the food was better than expected and the work was over far too soon for at least two employees of Great Western Forestry now off the job at Muskrat Falls.

“Everything was kept secret on us,” said Gerald Colbert, who told The Telegram he moved heavy equipment around the project site.

He thought things were chugging along just fine, until Nalcor Energy ordered Great Western Forestry off the project.

Colbert’s employer was contracted in late March to clear trees for a right-of-way for a transmission line, as part of the province’s $7.7-billion energy megaproject. The work was halted Nov. 15 and passed to another contractor.

Nalcor Energy has declined comment, outside of a written statement noting the change was the result of unspecified contractual issues.

Colbert was home in St. John’s at the time of the decision, scheduled to return to the site Nov. 21. He received his layoff notice three days before his return.

“I was expecting a year’s work out of it. I got three weeks,” he said Monday.

A truck driver before deciding to head to Muskrat Falls, he said he passed on other job offers to work on the project in central Labrador.

“I’ll probably be going out West now before Christmas,” he said, with Alberta a possible destination.


Brief homecoming

Denis Trainer was also working with Great Western Forestry. Born and raised in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, he now lives in Port Kirwan, near Fermeuse.

“Going there, seeing my old friends, that kind of thing, and meeting all the new people working there ... it was great,” he said of his time at the Muskrat Falls site.

He worked as a camp supervisor for Great Western Forestry and estimated he worked with 140 to 145 people at two camps.

He was at the site when the word on the contract came down from his boss.

“It was just kaboom. You’re finished,” he said.

There was some talk of back and forth between the companies in the following days, but Trainer — who is unsure of where his next job will be — said he believes it will all ultimately end up in the courts.


Bills to be paid

Great Western Forestry is already dealing with costs associated with its uncompleted Muskrat Falls work.

The company has bills to be paid, according to court documents.

For example, Labrador Concrete Products’ Fred Penney confirmed his company provided aggregate to Great Western Forestry this summer and has since filed a statement of claim, pressing for payment on a pair of outstanding bills.

He referred to the amounts as smaller claims.

Hunt’s Transport, meanwhile, was a subcontractor, providing transportation and delivery of camp trailers and heavy equipment for Great Western Forestry, according to a mechanic’s lien filed at Supreme Court on Nov. 22.

The company is looking for $165,428 for services provided for Muskrat Falls project work.

The claim includes Nalcor Energy as a second defendant. It reaches through to Nalcor on the issue of the debt suggesting, if needed, property or assets be seized from both defendants in order to cover what is owed.


No comment from company

Nalcor is not releasing the cost of the original contract with Great Western Forestry, the cost of its new contract with Johnson’s Construction and the potential financial penalties associated with the change in contractors on the right-of-way work mid-job.

Kevin Dudka, the director of operations for Canadian Northern Timber companies, including Great Western Forestry, was reached by email, but declined comment on the company’s Muskrat Falls contract.

In response to questions in the House of Assembly in the last two weeks, Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley has only said the contractor was non-compliant with the project contract and the work completed was not satisfactory.

He said nothing about the cost.