Opposition rails at Liberals over Muskrat Falls delay

Published on December 5, 2016

Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady said they’re concerned by leakage at a temporary cofferdam at the Muskrat Falls site, and an inability to deploy an ice boom which was planned to protect the construction site from ice damaging the site over the winter. Both Ball and Coady were on the defensive in the House of Assembly Monday from questions on the subject.

©James McLeod/The Telegram

The Muskrat Falls project once again dominated question period in the House of Assembly Monday, as Opposition parties pressed for information about the latest problem to bedevil the megaproject.

Last week, the public learned Nalcor would not be able to deploy an ice boom near the construction site to prevent debris from damaging the facility during the winter.

In an interview with the CBC, Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall blamed the situation on indigenous activists protesting environmental contamination who shut down the site for several days in October.

But NDP MHA Lorraine Michael suggested the blame might rest at least partially with Nalcor for failing to heed warnings about problems with its own construction.

Part of the reason the ice boom couldn’t be deployed is the water levels upstream of the dam couldn’t be raised, because of “seepage” coming through the temporary cofferdam at the construction site.

In question period, Michael pointed out that months ago the independent engineer assigned to provide project oversight wrote a report that raised concerns about the cofferdam and leakage.

“The independent engineer’s report, arising from the Muskrat Falls site visit in July, identified — and I quote — a risk of serious leakage with respect to the cofferdam,” Michael said.

“Mr. Speaker, I ask the premier: when did Nalcor first learn of this conclusion of the independent engineer and when did Nalcor inform the government?”

Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady eventually said Nalcor received the report on Nov. 1.

But it wasn’t clear from Coady’s response in the legislature whether they might have been alerted to the issue earlier.

Coady said the issue of seepage through a cofferdam is normal, and Nalcor hopes to have the problem solved within a couple of weeks, as grouting that has been installed sets.

Premier Dwight Ball didn’t entirely buy the notion that the protesters were to blame for the potential winter damage because of delays raising the water levels and deploying the ice boom.

“Protests certainly saw the site shut down for a few days, but when you look at the original plan for this project, the river diversion should have occurred months and months ago,” Ball said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis bristled at that notion.

He said the Liberals have been in charge for a year, so now this is on them.

Davis asked a series of specific questions in the House of Assembly, trying to pin down when Ball found out about the problems and what the cost would be. For the most part, he did not get direct answers from Ball.

Davis also repeatedly asked questions in the House of Assembly about the last time Coady had visited Muskrat Falls. She repeatedly avoided the question, leaving Davis to conclude she’d never actually been to the site.

“I know when I was minister, one of the important things for me to do quite often was to go to the scene, go to the area, go to the place, talk with the people,” Davis told reporters after question period.

“I remember the first time I went to Muskrat Falls. I learned a tremendous amount about the project itself.”

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