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Monday 23 June 2014


One of the unfortunate consequences of the Tory Leadership troubles and the Humber Valley Paving affair is that the Muskrat Falls Project has slid off the public radar. 

The Government has given Nalcor sanction to spend billions of dollars in the absence of structured and resourced ‘oversight’.  The Agency essentially has carte blanche access to the public purse. 

Nalcor continues to post job figures and expenditures without offering proof of progress on the Muskrat Falls site.  

We are not in possession of the latest project cost estimates or a revised construction schedule; the latter a major concern of the Independent Engineer (IE).

Readers are reminded it is not the IE’s job to sound alarm; its chief role is simply to make sure the $5 billion Bond funding, on which the Feds have a guarantee, is not spent on overruns.

In short, the public is in the dark on the Muskrat Falls project. Take a look at a prime example, the $1 billion Astaldi contract. 

Nalcor has stated the Astaldi bid “…ultimately provides the best overall value for the Muskrat Falls Project….”  (emphasis added) The phraseology of its Press Release is as striking as it is incomplete.  Nowhere does it say the Company is the 'lowest bidder'! That is a serious omission for an Agency ostensibly preoccupied with "cost pressures". We need to know if Nalcor intended more precision; if those words were inadvertent or deliberate.    

Astaldi’s work includes the “powerhouse, spillway, intake and transition dams”.  Nalcor talks about “best overall value”.   

Is it possible the Astaldi work is NOT a ‘fixed-price contract’? What risk does Astaldi assume, if any, having been selected over rivals, like Aecon?  Is all the risk Nalcor’s? What other secrets have been held back?

It is not as if we can ask Nalcor and get a straight answer; one that gives no quarter to claims of 'commercial sensitivity'.   It is not as if we have access to a real 'Oversight' Team. 

                                    WHY THE MUSKRAT OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE IS A FARCE

When Nalcor plays with words, as if everyone is too dumb to notice, don't you think the strongest possible Oversight is overdue?  Shouldn't replacing Ed Martin be a priority, too?   

Martin advised that he will provide a project update at the end of June.  He has never been known to release information that lets the public assess his, the Project Team’s performance, or that of the Project.  No Reports ever get published as blunt as that provided by the PUB into the causes of DarkNL.

That said, the Province has not had a functioning Premier in a long time.  Tom Marshall may suggest it is the P.C. Party that is in disarray and not the Government, but he is wrong. It is both!  A Government focussed on the public interest would never permit an Agency, like Nalcor, to do anything except provide the greatest possible disclosure and have its expensive tastes monitored.

The Premier told the House of Assembly in March, 2014 that he had established a four person Committee of Deputy Ministers headed by the Clerk of the Executive Council to provide Muskrat Oversight.  He said he wanted to:      
“…strengthen and formalize the existing oversight for the construction phase of the Muskrat Falls Project (through the establishment of) a departmental committee of Finance, Natural Resources, and Justice, chaired by the Clerk of the Executive Council…(which would) provide quarterly updates to the public starting in July….”

The first Report of the Committee is due within days.

This scribe has always regarded this Departmental Oversight Committee an act of deception on the part of the Premier.    

Muskrat oversight is a matter of such complexity that it needs a full team of specialists in the engineering, planning, logistics, construction management and financial fields to assess it properly.  Four career public servants are not up to that task alone.  That is not to lend them disrespect; it is simply to suggest that they take notice and inform the public of the reality of their position. 

Public interest may have come ahead of their jobs.  But even in a blinkered society, such as ours, courage still earns an enduring respect.   

Workers returning from the Muskrat Falls Site suggest first power, in 2017, is a pipe dream; even 2018 is a distant prospect. We know that costs have spiralled; we just don’t know how high.  None of the news is good.  

Emera CEO Chris Huskilson told the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, as recently as May 26th, that Muskrat is on schedule; no one at Nalcor thought to correct him.  

Ed Martin and Danny Williams use every opportunity to talk up our 'energy warehouse', as if it is perfectly excusable to waste offshore oil revenues to cover up mismanagement of Nalcor’s hydro project.  If only the public could be satisfied with the phrases of the PR Department!

If the Government’s Oversight Committee had been properly resourced and given unfettered authority to report, we might still be concerned about overruns; but, at least, we would have the truth.  The status of the Astaldi and other major Contracts might be available.  

If Muskrat Falls is ever to produce electricity a good way to get there might be to first expose the project to the light.