Wednesday, 3 February 2016


Canadian Hydro Engineer, James L. Gordon has refused a one-on-one briefing proposed by Nalcor’s Engineering Manager on the Muskrat Falls project. The invitation to Gordon came from Muskrat Falls Manager of engineering, Greg Snyder.

Nalcor proposed to hold the meeting at SNC Offices in Montreal.

Gordon has been an outspoken critic who insists the remediation plans for the North Spur require assessment by a competent Review Board

In turning down his offer, Gordon told Snyder "there are many others that need assurance from an independent Review Board that the North Spur dam design is correct."

Gordon has worked on 113 hydro projects throughout the world and is the recipient of several awards for “excellence in design”. He fears that Nalcor’s remediation plans have not been designed by experts who have extensive experience in marine clays.
The hydro engineering icon has posted on this Blog and written the Telegram in an effort to draw public attention to the stability of the North Spur and to the value of having a “Blue Ribbon” panel review Nalcor’s design.

The Spur is a natural feature that extends into the Churchill River, from the north. The Spur constitutes roughly 50% of the Muskrat Falls dam. Two proposed Nalcor concrete dams will complete the structure.

The North Spur contains a type of clay called “Quick Clay” which is in a class called “sensitive” clays. Quick Clay has the ability to liquefy under certain conditions, and to cause landslides. A landslide induced collapse of the dam would constitute a catastrophe for the Muskrat Falls project and pose life safety risks for residents living downstream of the project.

In an email to Jim Gordon, the lead Nalcor engineer, Greg Snyder, said: “we value your opinion on the project, and would like to have the opportunity to give you an in depth presentation….In particular”, Snyder stated, “we can address the concerns raised by (Dr. Stig) Bernander on the issues around landslides.”

Dr. Bernander, is a Swedish geoscientist and internationally recognized expert on Quick Clay. His research led to new methodologies for assessing Quick Clay risk.. He conducted field work at the North Spur in 2014 and lectured at the LSPU Hall and at the Engineering School, Memorial University. Nalcor V-P, Gilbert Bennett attended the MUN Lecture but did not invite Bernander to review Nalcor’s design.

Gordon informed the Nalcor engineer by return email:

Gordon goes on to suggest that the Review should be conducted by Dr. Bernander and another retired professor of geotechnical engineering, such as Dr. N. R. Morgenstern from the University of Alberta, who recently chaired the failure panel studying the cause of the central British Columbia Mine disaster, known as Mount Polley Dam. The Dam expert also proposed that a third senior geotechnical engineer, selected by mutual agreement between the other two Review Board members, should complete the Panel.

Gordon told Uncle Gnarley Blog that the design of the North Spur dam is without precedent, and that the consequences of failure are catastrophic. He reiterated, as he had previously, that only an independent panel of experts – a Review Board - is capable of assuring Nalcor’s design for the North Spur is acceptable.
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  1. I won't suggest a lack of intellect at Nalcor.... so their offer to provide a review to Mr. Gordon clearly shows that either they just aren't listening or are choosing to ignore what he is saying.

  2. Good that Gordon rejected Nalcor`s proposal, as it should be obvious that a Review Board of a number of experts is what is needed.
    Winston Adams

  3. What is behind NALCO's plan to NOT appoint a Review Board as opposed to have Mr.Gordon discuss the issue face-to-face? Jim's views are known by his convincing blogs and NALCO are unable to take the hint and save their skins. NALCO please appoint a Panel and save a disaster.

  4. Jim Gordon has no axe to grind, only science, latest knowledge, experience and the calling of an engineer. Jim has my support. FW

  5. Nalcor have been slow to release any information on the North Spur. the reason is that it is still being done! The reports which they have been putting up to their website, would have wet ink if they were not electronic. I find this public discussion of the engineering practice to be concerning. PEGNL should make comment, instead of being the reactive, irrelevant organization they are.

    1. PEG is that nasty stuff used to clean out the bowels before a doctor will examine the colon. Or it can be used for one who is hard in the bowels. Once the bowel exam is done, one is put into a room with others to let off a lot of farts, and everyone laughs at the sounds, and the nurse will check and smile and ask if your gas has released yet. Since the bowels are clean, there is no odour to the farts. And while PEG is really a anti-freeze, it is non toxic ,so safe to use.
      So here`s a question: If all the members of PEGNL gathered on the North Spur, and had a bowel cleaning by the ususal PEG medicine, and then all farted together the usual hot air which must get released (in the procedure,some air is pumped in to expand the bowel to allow good visual checks with a tiny camaera,to check of poor structure, cracks, improper leaks etc), one could monitor the intensity and frequency of this giant fart, while at the same time checking the impact on water seepage in the sand and marine clay material of the North Spur, as well as ground vibration and other critical engineering data data. The purpose of course is to test the North Spur for stability, since if it could survive such a test with no evidence of collapse, then surely the safety factor against earth tremors,random earth slides upstream, or increased water pressure from increased head pressure of the river, would be considerably less then this evidence based method of safety testing by PEG. This would settle this issue once and for all, making an expert panels of engineers unnecessary. This improved method is being considered all over Norway and Sweden where marine clay is a serious issue, but there are sceptics to this approach. There is the real risk that the fart blast could indeed trigger a collapse, and the total membership of PEGNL not have time to make their escape, and what a loss that would be. Their input to the importance of this issue as to public safety would be finished. Their public pronouncements on this vital matter would end. Where would we then look for guidance when future technical questions must go unanswered, hanging on a hope and a prayer.