Monday, 9 March 2015


Scramble” is a word that conveys something more than a sense of urgency.  It suggests a disorganized, frantic, confused, even undignified effort to do something or get somewhere. There is a lot of scrambling going on in the Province, right now.

The Premier and his Finance Minister are scrambling to put together a Budget; private enterprise is back in vogue as they contemplate selling off public services; the crown jewels can’t be far behind.

Carol Furlong is scrambling having recognized, too late, the government has public employees in the crosshairs.

CUPE President, Wayne Lucas, says “there will be war”; it’s a safe bet he’s scrambling; some call it leading from behind.

Business groups are scrambling. They want to steer Premier Davis away from tax increases.  Seems they have been thrown off the party bus. The Chair of the Board of Trade outlined her prescription for improved stewardship, in The Telegram, on Saturday. She doesn’t as much as offer a “tut tut” for reckless behavior and not much in the way of ideas, either.

NL Hydro is scrambling…. to keep the lights on; even though power demand is average for the time of year.

Nalcor is scrambling to keep a lid on the fallout as the construction schedule slips at Muskrat Falls.

Astaldi is scrambling having discovered frostbite, from a Labrador winter, is just as numbing as project logistics in Ed Martin’s office.

There is no scrambling by the Government’s Oversight Committee. They have succumbed to hibernation; the inoculation is so overwhelming they missed Groundhog Day.  The latest meeting, for which minutes are posted, is Dec. 5, 2014, and its last quarterly report was for the period ending Sept. 31, 2014. 

And there’s no scrambling inside the Office of the Independent Engineer (IE).

I guess it is hard to get noticed when, all around you, everyone else is scrambling

But the IE's latest Report gives us a clue as to why many of the others are scrambling.

Fair warning: don’t read the IE’s Report unless you have a strong stomach!

It almost caused the loss of one Muskrat “watcher”, this week. The email read as if the writer was threatening self-immolation, the sense of despair palpable: “I do not have the stomach to read any more of (it)”, he declared. 

What was most shocking is that this is a fellow constantly on the front lines; battle ready, as they say.  

I wrote him back a curt reply telling him to pull himself together.  I said: don’t you understand, as a citizen of this Province, you are a member of a grand society of poker players”. I thought he might do with a bit of cheering up, even if the odds were poor.  I reminded him, as gamblers say, we are all “pot committed”.  Perhaps, he knew that already. Come to think of it, he did seem a tad “all in”. 

I don't think it worked.  He wrote back looking for assurance it was too early for PTSD.

What did the Independent Engineer (IE) say that sent his blood pressure soaring?

The explanation is actually quite simple. You see, he’s an engineer.

Now, engineers tend to be very technical people. They expect to read a diatribe of complex words; all of them obscure to the great unwashed.  They know, full well, their frequent usage and incomprehensibility is what we pay millions of dollars for. But the most complicated word in the IE’s Report was “SLIPPAGE”. 

Now, we all know what slippage means.  As an engineer, he knew in an instant the jig was up; whatever was left of the façade of Muskrat Falls, and the engineers that manage it, is gone.

What did the IE say? 

Now, this is where things get serious:

Said the IE’s Report “…it is understood that there has been schedule slippage…” at Muskrat Falls. The IE does not volunteer who understands there has been slippage or how much, but the word SLIPPAGE was given unabashed amplification. 

That wasn’t all.

The Report talks about the status of the “dome”. 

Remember the dome? That was supposed to be the answer to everyone’s inexperience; Nalcor’s and Astaldi’s.

States the IE: Astaldi Canada’s “…progress on the ICS (shelter structure) for the Powerhouse construction is behind schedule…..Bays 1 and 2 (are) substantially completed (minus much of the wall cladding….)".

The IE adds: “…concrete works were underway for the spillway structure… (but) this work is behind schedule…”

(The IE could have used the word SLIPPAGE, but thankfully for one engineer, he chose words not so hard on his blood pressure.)

The Report states Nalcor is “actively working with Astaldi to identify and implement production improvements to maintain the schedule for River diversion in 2016 and First Power in 2017”

The implication is, they are scrambling to prevent more slippage which, in the meantime, demands we assume the failure to complete the “dome” will have no effect on the completion schedule. Except, as another astute engineer points out: if that is the case, why was the dome needed in the first place?

I didn’t want to be the author of my own demise, so I didn’t say to the second astute engineer, I was encouraged by the IE’s comment about the site of the Powerhouse. The IE stated the “work area is fully protected from the weather by a tarpaulin…”

And, I bit my tongue, too, when I could have offered him encouraging words like: what’s another $100 million!

Throughout the Report, the IE seemed anxious to note that ‘construction works observed during the site visit were all in accordance with good construction standards’.

I think those were the words that turned the normally demure (but astute) engineer apoplectic.

I had only studied Political Science, but I was beginning to feel like I had gotten mixed up in a graduation bash in the engineering building. The astute engineer, now banging on the pots and pans, shouted: how can the IE even talk like that, if the winter covering is not complete and has little chance of being completed?  The “dome” may come down before it is even finished and this is supposed to be in accordance with “good construction practice”?

I don’t think I have ever seen an engineer as depressed; following which he actually turned apologetic,  as if he had done dentistry at Dalhousie.

But, there is more.

The IE states: “No work was being carried out on the North Spur stabilization works at the time of the site visit...”

So, the North Spur and the water diversion can both be delayed for one year and not affect the date of first power?

Now, the engineer is screaming:  you can’t even make this god damned stuff up!!!!!!

And, still, it gets worse.

The IE informs us of “the positive outcome of …discussions with Astaldi Canada’s upper management (and a) new reorganization of Astaldi and LCMC (Nalcor) site personnel…targeting a significant contract progress improvement…”

Astaldi, is getting their feet frozen; its first time in Labrador. Nalcor is doing their very first big project. Top management is trying “reorganization” as they figure out what to do next.  

The result……a very technical term, but I think we all know what it means…SLIPPAGE!

Oh! It’s a busy winter on the Island and especially in Labrador.

There is not much work getting done; but...

But (almost) everyone is scrambling.


  1. re-org is a plot straight out of a Dilbert strip. PHB = Ed Martin Bearded Marketing Guy = Gil

  2. Seeing all of those orange tarpaulins and the "frost fighter" backup heaters does not fill me with confidence. Is there any way the feds can withdraw their loan guarantee? This may be a way to stop the entire thing. I am sure there will be many who will say it is too late to stop but it is not. From the photos in the report this project is still in the initial construction phase and given this province's real inability to continue to provide financing, we should halt work immediiately and start invoking some of those contract cancellation clauses, of which i am sure there are many. Perhaps some lawyers among the readers can spot some opportunity in the loan guarantee documents that will enable the feds to bring this to a halt. Not likely we get our money back on all of those orange tarps, though...

    John D Pippy

  3. Mr. Pippy, I concur with you that indeed it can be stopped. They can continue to build it but, if time delays and cost overruns add up to hundreds of millions more, it is simply not worth the risk. It has been a colossal failure from the beginning but we have a government and business community with their heads buried in the proverbial sand…demonstrating the abysmal lack of leadership among the so-called elites in this province.

    Like the engineer, Mr. Sullivan describes in his column, I am thoroughly discouraged by what I see as a complete and utter abandonment of principle by our politicians, union leaders, and the corporate elite….all of whom seem to think it is perfectly fine to shaft general populace as long as they get to benefit.

    I am not ready to abandon hope of the complete collapse of this project and the subsequent dismantling of that monstrosity called NALCOR….but we are approaching the precipice.

  4. Only 3 percent of those polled consider Muskrat Falls an election issue. A friend suggests that almost no one realizes that the power rates will soon go up 50 percent or more. What will the other 97 percent say once these rates are fact........

    1. Jim Lovell said it best. "There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened..."

      NL is full of people in the "what happened" category.