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Russell Wangersky: Hydro shrugs off risks outlined in technical report


It sounds almost bibilical: blocked and flooding roads, dams poised to collapse. And it’s all in a technical report about the Long Pond reservoir, part of the Bay D’Espoir hydroelectric system.

Russell Wangersky

Here’s part of the report: “During severe weather events the road to the site can be washed out and atmospheric conditions are not suitable for helicopters. In these situations personnel cannot travel to the Long Pond Reservoir, Salmon River Control Structure to operate the gates. If a timely water release is not done, water in the Long Pond Reservoir could raise to a level that could cause dam failure, in turn flooding the downstream communities in Bay d’Espoir and resulting in an extended loss of Bay d’Espoir power generation.”

The engineering report goes further: “In October 2016, during hurricane Matthew, the volume of water added to the reservoir and the upstream drainage basin caused an increase in the reservoir level, putting the structure at risk. During the storm, travel to the spillway structure to open the spillway gates was not possible as the storm had caused 11 washouts making the road impassable and high wind conditions during the storm eliminated the use of helicopters. Events like this increase the risk that access is not available, via helicopter or road, and flood waters could compromise the reservoir containment system.”

Because of that, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro wants permission to spend $2.5 million next year to install a remote control system for the spillway gates.

Structures at risk, roads block, flooding in downstream communities, potential loss of the entire power plant — sounds grim, hey?

Well, apparently not.

When The Telegram asked Hydro about the risks outlined in the report, vice-president for production Jennifer Williams said there wasn’t any risk: “We were not, at any point in time, concerned that there was any risk at all to that structure and there was no risk at all to us being able to get in in the appropriate amount of time and release water as required,” she said, adding that the report “probably wasn’t as clear as it should have been.”

It’s actually very clear.

While a Hydro report is asking for money to repair what it clearly indicates is a dangerous problem, a Hydro official is saying there actually is no danger.

Here’s the overarching problem with that: the capital plan for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is hundreds of pages long and, if implemented, will mean $206.2 million of work will be done and eventually charged to ratepayers like you and me.

Every single aspect of that application will not be tested by the PUB, because the hearings would take ages.

The board has a right to believe that evidence given under oath will be accurate.

And the technical report — the whole capital plan, in fact — is sworn evidence.

The PUB is a quasi-judicial body, and operates like a court when it comes to testimony and documents.

Each individual technical report — like the one quoted above for the dam system —carries a signed seal by a registered professional engineer attesting to its accuracy.

Not only that, the entire capital projects submission is accompanied by a sworn affidavit from the utility’s president and CEO, stating that he has read the application, and “I have personal knowledge of the facts contained therein, except where otherwise indicated, and they are true to the best of my knowledge, information and belief.”

They are not meant to be a starting point for debate over whether a project deserves funding. They are meant to be fact.

And if they aren’t, what should we trust in the application as a whole?

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky

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