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One brother showcases ‘integrated cover system,’ other sits at inquiry
Back in August 2014, the report from Nalcor Energy was work had started on the planned “dome” over what would become the Muskrat Falls powerhouse. The dome — formally known as the Integrated Cover System (ICS) — was meant to make it easier to build during the winter.
The next month, in September 2014, Nalcor Energy deputy area construction manager Bill Knox was put in front of the cameras during a media tour. The first pieces of the ICS were visible over his shoulder.
“This allows us to do construction work during the cold months. Here in Labrador is gets quite cold here during the winter,” he said of the enclosure. “This structure will consist of 3,800 tonnes of structural steel. Inside we will have our heating systems, ventilations systems, 14 overhead cranes. (…) We also have water systems, concrete distribution systems, electrical and lighting, all inside, all enclosed. So we can do this work (…) 12 months around the year, around the clock.”
The ICS was expected to be 68 metres long, 50 metres high and 80 metres wide when finished, he said, describing it like a showcase prize.
But the structure he described never became reality.
Before the end of 2014, Nalcor Energy’s project leaders were concerned about Astaldi’s progress on construction. Knox was released from Nalcor and asked to go to work directly with Astaldi.
At the Muskrat Falls Inquiry this week, his brother, Ed Knox, sat as part of a four-man “workers’ panel,” highly critical of the hydroelectric project.
The quality assurance professional sat silently while the men at his side described the ICS. As previously reported, it had ultimately been scrapped mid-build, and with legal action launched between the responsible contractor, Astaldi, and its subcontractor, Quebec-based Constructions Proco.
Electrician Ken White, now retired, spoke about the ICS.
“I left there in 2015, when I transferred out to go to Bull Arm, the building was basically still under construction. Fifty per cent of it was up, the roof was on it, several of the cranes were operational, there was a few other components — lighting and whatnot. I really don’t recollect if the heat ever got turned on in that building,” White said.
White didn’t remember feeling heat. And the structure was never completed anyway.
Carpenter Larry Cavaliere, also on the workers’ panel, said he doesn’t think the ICS was ever really doable. He is still working at Muskrat Falls.
“I think the ICS structure, for me, was a big failure to begin with. I think there was no foresight on how they were going to use this building. And I think there should have never been the ICS structure. That’s what I think,” he said.
Knox didn’t directly attack the ICS. But he didn’t speak in support of it, either.
He did describe a high rate of turnover of project managers at Astaldi, who he was employed with. He said Astaldi management was not prepared to tackle a project in Labrador.
“When I first joined Astaldi back in 2014, when I first came on site I could see the lack of planning, disorganization within the management,” he said.
Just before the 2014 media tour, workers at the site had completed some “dental” work on the rock faces where the powerhouse concrete was to be poured. What no one told reporters, but Knox testified was the case, was some of that cleaning was done with toilet brushes and windshield scrapers. Proper tools weren’t available.
“To me it was a lack of planning, obviously, and not the right tools for the job. And these are the things that I witnessed when I went on that job site at that time,” he said.
“Go back to what the guys explained as well. A lot of time was wasted simply because of poor planning and not having the actual expertise in the field as supervisors, superintendents and what have you,” he said. “And this was evident not only in 2014 but right throughout the project.”
While on the stand, Ed Knox wasn’t asked about his brother.
The Telegram spoke with him following the day’s testimony. He said he wasn’t criticizing his brother when he spoke critically about Astaldi Canada management.
“Bill was not my manager,” he confirmed, explaining he never reported to his brother, even when they were both working directly for Astaldi. Quality assurance reported directly to project management, he said. His brother worked specifically in construction management, on the day-to-day progress of the build, reporting to Astaldi’s management team and executive.
He said Bill eventually left Astaldi and returned to work with Nalcor.
“(But) I didn’t manage him. He didn’t manage me,” he said.
Ed Knox was challenged over his project criticisms while on the stand. On the issue of the tools, Nalcor Energy lawyer Dan Simmons clarified it was expected tools would be supplied by contractors.
Lawyer Paul Burgess asked questions going to credibility. Among other things, he pointed out Ed Knox is one of the workers in a legal battle over wages. He had worked with the company, until Astaldi was thrown off the project in 2018.