North spur hasn’t hiked Muskrat costs: Nalcor

Crown corp says pre-construction cost estimate still stands

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on June 25, 2013
The North Spur in the Churchill River. — Image courtesy of Google Earth

The North Spur is essentially a natural dam — a 1,000-metre long, 500-metre wide piece of land, jutting out into the Churchill River and forcing the river to narrow.

It is key to the province’s $7.7-billion Lower Churchill hydroelectric development and specifically the dam being built at Muskrat Falls.

Research has shown the spit of land is basically made up of sand and gravel, and is subject to landslides if it is left untouched.

It needs to be stabilized as part of the Muskrat Falls construction project.

The work is part of the project plan and, according to a spokeswoman for Nalcor Energy, it is not about to drive costs through the roof despite public statements being made by project critics.

Lawyer and former government policy advisor Cabot Martin has referred to the North Spur as “the weak link in Nalcor’s Muskrat

Falls project,” in an online presentation.

On June 20, Con O’Brien (@CONDESCENDANT) posted on the social media platform Twitter, “Nalcor is now floating 1 BILLION EXTRA to stabilize the NORTH SPUR! You might want to think about applying brakes!”

Nalcor Energy spokeswoman Janine McCarthy said any statements suggesting skyrocketing costs for stabilizing the North Spur are false rumors.

“That is not the case,” she said, responding to a question from The Telegram Monday.

“The cost of the stabilization work for the North Spur was included in the Decision Gate 3 (pre-construction) budget and the estimated cost of this work has not changed.”

At Nalcor Energy’s annual general meeting on June 5, Lower Churchill project lead Gilbert Bennett was asked for the exact, expected cost of the North Spur stabilization and the relevant geotechnical work.

Bennett said he could not provide specific cost estimates since Nalcor was entering into a bid process for contracts for the work.

As previously reported, erosion through land slides on either side of the North Spur was first brought under control in the early 1980s, when a system of pumps to remove water from the land was installed.

For the Muskrat Falls build, a feasibility study for a Lower Churchill development was published in 1999, stating examination from 1979-80 had shown the site could support a hydro project, “although stabilization measures would be necessary to prevent

continued landsliding from breeching the spur under existing conditions.”

Additional pump wells, as backup to the existing water removal system, were recommended alongside other stabilization measures, including a rockfill barrier on the upstream face of the spur.

Meanwhile, TC Media has a representative based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay set to take part in a media tour of the Muskrat Falls project site today — including a look at the North Spur.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com