More bad news from independent engineer’s report

Published on December 6, 2016

Well, it took almost five months to get here, but better late than never, right?

Or maybe “never” would have been better.

With Muskrat Falls, the old adage “no news is good news” seems apt, because every bit of news seems worse. On Sunday, it appears, the provincial government finally posted the latest report from the federal government’s independent engineer reviewing the project, a review that includes site visits last July and was finally finished at the beginning of November.

And while the thrust of the findings is well known — parts of the project are lagging, design and other issues are arising, and costs, well, you can only imagine the costs — there are parts of the now-dated report that are illuminating.

For example, on the May 29 major collapse of concrete formwork in Unit 2, a collapse that covered workers with wet concrete.

“Design issues, faulty materials (some of the formwork timbers suffered from dry rot) and shoddy construction have been identified as potential contributing factors in the incident. Formwork in Draft Tubes #3 and #4, as well as plans to reconstruct formwork for #2 were under review at the time of the site visit and both wood and steel forms systems were under consideration,” the engineer writes.

On the upper cofferdam? Apparently the engineer was concerned about leakage back in July, saying, “The overall design of the cofferdam is conventional and in line with accepted practice. The IE believes, however, that there is some risk of relatively high foundation leakage in a few areas. …”

There is enough leakage in the upper cofferdam that it is still under repair, though the government said Monday the current leaks are not the same problem as the one the engineer referred to.

On the state of the cross-island power line? “There is significant schedule slippage with the HVdc lines in Labrador and on the island of Newfoundland. This is a primary cost risk and according to contractor’s reports is driven by issues with access works. It had been planned to provide only winter access to many areas of the HVdc line. At the insistence of Vallard this plan has been modified, it is now planned to construct all-weather access for most areas. Access is problematic in the Long Range Mountains. A detailed access plan is now being drawn up.”

Hold up your hand if you didn’t imagine that could be a problem. Or the fact that — whoa — they’re running into unexpected “areas of problematic wet and soft soil.”

And that strange situation where a strand of wire popped out of the side of power cables for a significant part of the power line? “Displaced strand (popped crowded wire) of the HVdc conductor cable has been observed in installed cable at a number of locations. Surveys are being carried out to determine how much of the installed cable has a displaced strand. This issue is very significant and may necessitate the replacement of cable that has already been strung and/or is being stored in the stock yards.”

The independent engineer’s report was serious enough that Nalcor’s subsidiary, the Lower Churchill Management Corp. (LCMC), issued its own response, suggesting, politely enough, that the engineer might not be fully up to speed. “LCMC respects and appreciates the input of the IE during their visits, and with due consideration and discussions, incorporates that input where appropriate into the ongoing delivery of the project. … LCMC believes that it is important that some additional context be provided in relation to some comments made by the IE in the November 2, 2016 report.”

On things like the cofferdam, Nalcor said they “acknowledged (the engineer’s) observations and experience at the time and took that into consideration on a go forward basis.” The form collapse? “LCMC notes that the root cause investigation of this event is still ongoing, and that the IE’s commentary and observations is based on a limited exposure to the incident as well as the persons and contractors involved. They should not be interpreted as the final outcome of the comprehensive investigation which is nearing its conclusion as of this date.”

At least something is approaching its conclusion.

Oh, well; more grist for the Muskrat mill.


Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at — Twitter: @Wangersky.