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Monday 20 January 2014


Nalcor’s competence at the site of the estimated $7.7 billion Muskrat Falls Project is being called into question again. 

 Two different sources have confirmed to this Blogger that a major management screw-up, in late December, will almost certainly delay the start of the next phase of the project and Project Completion.

The Christmas revelry seems to have caused Nalcor management to forget about a critical pumping system essential to maintaining the construction schedule.

All last year, huge equipment performed mass excavation to remove six million cubic meters of rock, according to Nalcor figures, creating a giant hole where the power house and spillways of the dam will be built.

Large pumps had been installed to keep the “giant hole” dry in anticipation of Astaldi’s arrival at the Project.  Astaldi Canada is the Italian Contractor awarded the $1 billion contract to build the powerhouse, intake, gated spillway and transition structures. 
The site is situated within mere meters of the Churchill River.  Fissures in the rock permit river water to penetrate the formation, as it might any unmaintained excavated pit.  Snow melt and rain water help fill it, too.  Temperatures in the Happy Valley region, during Christmas, fell into the -30° or lower range. 

When the workforce temporally abandoned the site for the Holidays, it seems no one was put in charge of keeping the pumps running which are needed to keep the excavation from filling with water.   

What happened? 

Following a major snow fall, the road to the construction site did not get plowed. 

The  re-supply truck was unable to reach the site to deliver fuel oil.  The water pumps are gas driven. Nalcor did not have an emergency supply of fuel on site.  

So the pumps failed.

That’s what happens when unqualified people get to run big projects.

Nalcor’s giant, partly water-filled, crater has turned to ice.  Now penetrating the cracks in the rock , the ice is virtually impossible to mechanically remove.   Melting is the only real solution to the problem.

Nalcor made no announcement about this management “oversight” or what it all means for the project .  But, Astaldi is sure to suffer delay in placing the estimated 500,000 cubic metres of concrete required for the structures.

Spring does not come early to Labrador.

Nalcor ought to make a full report on such a critical operational failure; it must also inform the public how much delay it represents for the Muskrat Falls Project. 

One thing is clear.   Such a basic oversight again calls into question the most fundamental management skills of Nalcor, as Project Managers.  If management is not strong enough to ensure simple procedures are in place to plough a road, arrange fuel delivery and keep vital pumping operations going 24 hours per day, it has no business pretending it has the management skills to bring a large mega-project to fruition on time and on budget.

Sources close to the Project state that Nalcor  has lacked a senior Manager right from the beginning; one skilled and experienced in large-scale construction management, located on the Site, not in St. John’s.   That Project Manager must be capable of dealing with bureaucrats at Nalcor who want to operate from St. John’s. 

He/she must possess not just the skillset to knowledgeably execute on essential logistics.  That person must have the authority to take fundamental operational decisions. 

But a new project manager would not be not nearly enough even assuming that Muskrat can be justified.

Nalcor needs a full clean out of its executive offices. Corporate Bureaucrats and a plethora of managers with oil industry experience don’t fit the bill on a mega-construction project up in Labrador. 

The cash register rings on Muskrat’s cost over-runs.

This is certainly not good news from the field.