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Nalcor adviser says ‘no one listened’ to recommendations

Former Nalcor Energy construction adviser John Mulcahy at the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project on Thursday.
Former Nalcor Energy construction adviser John Mulcahy at the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project on Thursday. - Joe Gibbons

John Mulcahy believes his ideas could have saved millions of dollars

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Engineer John Mulcahy came to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project with nearly 50 years of experience on heavy civil and hydroelectric construction, dating back to summer work as a surveyor and dyke inspector for the Churchill Falls development in 1968.

He testified his experience was ignored at times on the Muskrat Falls project, at a financial cost.

Mulcahy had been president and general manager of McNamara Construction Co., been named an honorary life member of the Heavy Civil Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and had retired when McNamara’s parent company decided to close the local shop in 2005. He was asked to stay on, and move to Ottawa, but wasn’t interested in a move.

Then he received a call, and was asked to work with Nalcor Energy’s owner’s team.

“They called me a hydroelectric construction specialist, but I was really a construction adviser,” he said, when called to the stand Thursday at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry in St. John’s.

Mulcahy said his input was used early on, as he challenged and tested select items and assumptions in SNC-Lavalin’s design, working with the project management team. He said he believes he saved “a lot of money” for Nalcor and the public in changes along the way.

“(And) I could have saved more from a construction point of view, but no one listened,” he said.

"I could have saved more from a construction point of view, but no one listened." — John Mulcahy

While there was a depth of experience in individuals with contractors such as SNC-Lavalin, there was relative inexperience in Nalcor’s on-site management, he said. Some of the questions on-site managers asked along the way were “sort of embarrassing,” he testified.

He spoke about his discomfort with the work environment, and his relationship with a senior project manager that deteriorated over time.

At one point, after trying to negotiate a change in work hours and being caught off guard by the reaction, he issued his letter of resignation. He was talked into staying, and remained another year, but ultimately left the project in 2017.

In an example of potential savings, he spoke about the cost of the access road and the four-inch crush used in its construction.

“I’ve never seen it,” he said. “I said this is ridiculous, the money you’re spending there.”

He described the treatment of a junior engineer on the project, who he had viewed as extremely bright and capable, and who he believed was singled out for taking an issue to an executive.

“I heard this guy say this fella got to go, ’cause he’s speaking to Gilbert (Bennett),” he said. Bennett was Nalcor Energy’s vice-president and Lower Churchill Project (Muskrat Falls) lead.

“I was concerned with some of the clauses in some of the contracts as awarded,” Mulcahy later added, explaining he didn’t consider some of the language in the “terms and conditions” around mark-ups as standard. He specifically referenced the contract for bulk excavation, saying he didn’t know why the small print was different than what he would have expected.

Matching earlier testimony from Mark Turpin, also a former Nalcor contractor, Mulcahy was critical of Nalcor project manager Scott O’Brien and the level of decision-making in St. John’s versus on the construction site.

“You can’t be running back and forth to St. John’s. That’s my opinion,” he said.

Lawyers at the Inquiry also walked through Mulcahy’s work as part of an internal bid evaluation team. He was grilled on the award of the north and south dams contract package to a joint venture of Barnard Pennecon.

He was uncomfortable throughout, apparently embarrassed, given the project he had worked on had come to a public inquiry. He ultimately declared it his “lowest day” as an engineer.

Hearings continue Friday.


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