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Astaldi managers say on-site personnel were given few powers by bosses in St. John’s
Two members of the project management team for Astaldi Canada say Nalcor Energy’s construction managers weren’t given enough authority to deal with problems arising on site during the Muskrat Falls project construction.
Too much of the decision-making is based in St. John’s, both Georges Bader and Don Delarosbil said Thursday at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry.
“My understanding was as well that $25,000 was the limit for individuals at the site,” Bader said in response to questions.
In other words, he said, the on-site managers couldn’t give the go-ahead on anything potentially costing more than $25,000.
Bader said he was told that by at least two of Nalcor’s managers.
“And my understanding was even if they had (the ability to approve) more than that, they had to go always to St. John’s,” he said.
Both Bader and Delarosbil testified they had never experienced a situation where someone on the site gave approval on their own for more than $25,000 in spending.
It was explained as a procedure tied to cost management. The idea is it was necessary in Nalcor’s eyes, even if contractors disagreed.
“With their site managers, I could never settle anything,” said Bader, who worked at the main construction site for more than four years, until Astaldi was ordered out in 2018.
“With their site managers, I could never settle anything." — Georges Bader
For his part, Delarosbil, who was Astaldi’s project manager, made formal complaints about the approach, suggesting it was costing money, but found there were “no real changes.”
Delarosbil said he also felt Nalcor Energy’s project team overstepped at times.
“They had a habit of getting into our business quite a bit,” he said, explaining he had to ask more than once that Nalcor use the “right channels,” and issue requests and directions to him, for review and approval on behalf of Astaldi, before he directed Astaldi’s people.
But Nalcor lawyer Dan Simmons challenged the image of Nalcor Energy being without decision-makers at the site or inappropriately issuing orders.
Simmons suggested Astaldi’s team was just not happy with the decisions being made. He said the steps for approvals were required internally for oversight and there was proper on-site management.
Simmons mentioned project manager (generation) Scott O’Brien, who had been previously criticized for time spent in St. John’s. He noted there would be multiple, area construction managers on site reporting to O’Brien.
Delarosbil agreed there was always management on site.
“But they all told us, every one of them, that they didn’t have the decision-making power,” he said.
Other contractors have raised the issue of management powers and who was able to direct work at Muskrat Falls.
“They had a habit of getting into our business quite a bit." — Don Delarosbil
And documents in evidence show Nalcor Energy also lost people internally, tied at least in part to the construction management approach.
In May 2014, Ted Vanwyk tendered his resignation.
“The contractor is fast learning that the decision-making is done in St. John’s, not at the site. This undermines our authority and significantly reduces our ability to manage as I believe we should be doing,” Vanwyk wrote.
In June 2014, human resources adviser Brian Cottrell resigned, crediting it to both personal and professional reasons.
“I feel that my capabilities and experience are not being fully utilized, I am not challenged by my work or my work load and have no decision-making capability,” he wrote to Nalcor Energy site manager Des Tranquilla. “Further, the management style employed by St. John’s gives me great concern as the control and decision-making capabilities do not lie with the experienced people on site, but rather with St. John’s (managers) who are removed from the day-to-day site operations and this often causes unnecessary delays.”
O’Brien, other senior Nalcor managers and Nalcor executives are scheduled to testify later at the inquiry.