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Thursday, 14 March 2013


Cabot Martin, the well-known lawyer who served as a Senior Advisor to Premiers Moores, Peckford and Wells, recently released, a 91 page Power Point Presentation entitled: The North Spur Quick Clay Instability & Landslide Problem: The Weak Link in Nalcor's Muskrat Falls Project .

Already, you are thinking: do I have to read the entire Report?  Can I get the essence of what Martin is describing, without hiring a sitter for the day?  I will tell you how.  
But, first, a couple of comments are in order.

Cabot Martin approaches his Presentation, using a volume of research as deep as the “Quick Clay”, to which the ‘North Spur’ is host.  He works with a seriousness of purpose that suggests he may be cross examined by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His style contains a clarity that presumes a lay person, someone who is not a geologist, has an equal right to a straightforward explanation of the problem, alongside the scientist. 
Likely, you have never heard of “Quick Clay”.  It is glacio-marine clay, as Martin notes, with “peculiar properties that make them infamous as a cause of massive rapid landslides”; the clay material is inherently unstable and can turn into a liquid state.  (Visual proof is provided in a Norwegian video of an actual disaster, noted in the Report and found on You Tube, called "The RISSA Video"; it is so highly regarded  that it used, in Universities, for training.  It is fascinating to watch the earth turn into a liquid, and horrifying, too!).

In this Province, you will find “Quick Clay” along the shoreline of the lower Churchill River Valley, including on the site of the proposed Muskrat Falls Project.

Chances are you have not heard of the “North Spur”, either.  The North Spur is a barrier, projecting into the Churchill River, providing a natural dam for the Muskrat Falls Project. The feature is composed, at least in part, of the same unstable material as “Quick Clay”. 

Without the North Spur there is no Muskrat Falls. 

Nalcor has known about the issue since 1978.  At least five landslides have been recorded since that time. As recently as 2010, a major landslide occurred up river from Muskrat at Edward’s Island.
This instability issue was noted in MHI's Final Report. Nalcor had committed to the Joint Environmental Review Panel, and to the PUB, that it would study the problem in 2012, but failed to do so.  The Minister of Natural Resources recently acknowledged, in the House of Assembly, that he is aware of the problem and that the engineering work is going to be done this year.  In other words, ‘we are going to now study the problem to see what we are going to do’. 

Martin makes one thing abundantly clear: at this point, the Government doesn’t know if the problem can be managed.  Meantime, the Project is sanctioned and Government is spending billions of dollars as Muskrat is advanced.
Cabot Martin’s Report is unusual, not for its thoroughness or its overwhelming evidence that a multi-billion dollar hydro facility is being constructed on geologically unstable ground; what is unusual is that he is noticeably reserved in his judgement of how we have arrived at this point.  Cabot is not known for keeping his views to himself.  This time, he knows the facts are enough; alone, they have a glacial weight.

Having invested several weeks of time, with absolutely zero financial reward to compile the exhaustive (and highly readable) Presentation, I think Martin’s purpose was three-fold:

First, he believes the average citizen can read the document and form their own opinion on whether the Government and Nalcor have gone mad;

Second, he is placing decision-makers, who are inextricably linked to the Muskrat Falls Project, on notice:  The Prime Minister, the Premier, the Provincial Cabinet, NALCOR, the Province of Nova Scotia, EMERA, the Bond Rating Agencies, the Banks who will raise the bonds, SNC Lavalin, the Federal Government’s Independent Engineer, The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of NL, the plethora of Engineers, some of whom will have to put their professional careers on the line as they place their “Stamp” of Certification on the remediation measures taken; all of them, and others, will have to answer if they have been complicit in the seemingly senseless rush to get Muskrat under way, at any price.

Third, Martin likely believes, that sensible people can inspire governments to stop what they are doing and listen up; ordinary people can council caution knowing that they have to pay the mortgage, even if the house shifts on its foundation.  They can demand that the Project is halted until the problem, of “Quick Clay”, has been adequately studied.   They can insist that a determination is made on whether an economically viable solution is available and require the preparation of a full Report, by independent experts; one that is released to the public.   

If you don’t have your sitter arranged, I suggest two things:

1.      Read the two page (very short) Executive Summary at the beginning of the Presentation.

2.      Scoll down to page 41 and click on the "RISSA Video" and watch all of it (or watch it now).

I’m betting you won’t be satisfied until you have read Cabot Martin’s entire Presentation.

One final comment, which I must ascribe to the astute Professional Engineer, whose ear I bent, yesterday.  Last November, the Government said engineering design work on Muskrat Falls was 50% complete.  With 400 engineers working on the job, he estimated that the design should now be 65 to 70% completed.  By the time Nalcor get the soils testing done on the North Spur, and a design completed for the “problem”, design, he stated, will be in excess of 75% complete, or more. 
Why, then, was the very foundation of the project not looked at prior to the completion of all this detailed engineering design work?