Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Guest Post written by Cabot Martin

On VOCM BackTalk with Pete Soucy yesterday, Nalcor VP Gill Bennett, the regulator, examined  Gill Bennett the regulated and pronounced – risk of a North Spur Collapse during construction ? - no problem! Does not exist !

And repeated that assertion at the end of his call supposedly to really clinch the argument.
According to Bennett the risk of a North Spur collapse during construction was , not – acceptable risk; not -low risk; not – negligible risk;,  but 100% pure –unadulterated  NO RISK.

So go back to sleep people – no problem here.

All accompanied by a pious and disdainful  statement on the superiority of the engineering way of thinking and the high standards they hold themselves to – what tripe !

Heard the same crap up at MUN Engineering last fall when Bennett personally attacked Dr Stig Bernander, a gentle and gentlemanly world renowned Quick Clay landslide expert and  far, far more experienced in managing large construction projects than anyone up at Nalcor, with a similar “How dare you come over here  and question my engineering code of honor” attack - when Dr Bernander was merely raising serious valid questions about the safety of the North Spur.  

Simply put, Engineers are in any event fallible - putting aside Mr Bennett’s (and Mr Ed Martin’s ) total lack of previous experience on any kind on major construction projects , and putting aside Nalcor’s documented track record of incompetence and “imprudence” .

There cannot be “No Risk” of a North Spur Collapse during construction – not unless Bennett et al have by some mystical process achieved “God like” status and has changed naturally “unstable” to “stable”.

Acceptable maybe; low maybe; negligible maybe - all are possible (though unlikely) outcomes from a proper risk assessment for North Spur collapse during construction – along with Medium and High Risk.
But for a naturally unstable mass like the North Spur containing Quick Clay - NOT – never- “no risk”!
Related Reading:

The very first engineering study of the stability of the North Spur was carried out for Brinco in April 1964  by Acres Canadian Bechtel (builders of the Upper Churchill).The lead investigator was a Norwegian engineer who went on to found the prestigious Norwegian Geotechnical Institute which specializes in Quick Clay.

The Acres Canadian Bechtel study warned, in particular,  that it would not be feasible to carry out major earthworks on the North Spur.

Nalcor and SNC Lavalin’s friend’s Fernand Gilbert Construction are now up on the North Spur going at it hammer and tongs.

Ever since the big 1978 North Spur slide, NL Hydro (and now Nalcor) have been putting increasing amounts of perfume on the North Spur pig  – enabled by SNC Lavalin.

But as it turns out ,the public does not have to take my word on the risk of North Spur collapse --  or Mr. Bennett’s word either.
Nor should they.

In all civilized countries, the duty and process of assessing such risks is a public one – entrusted to some branch of their democratically elected government.

And this is exactly where, Minister Dan Crummell and his officials are supposed  to earn their pay under the Water Resources Act for which they are responsible.

Under that Act, which governs Dam Safety and the mucking around with rivers , the procedure is simple:

 – Nalcor is supposed to prepare (in a timely fashion)  a proper detailed Risk Assessment of the Risk of North Spur collapse during construction (backed up by proper engineering studies) along with the Emergency Preparedness Plan specifically aimed at handling a North Spur collapse during construction commensurate with that Risk.

-Nalcor is supposed to (in a timely fashion) submit that North Spur (under construction) Risk Assessment and specifically related Emergency Preparedness Plan to the Minister for approval.

-Minister Crummell and his officials are then supposed to examine Nalcor’s Risk Assessment and Emergency Preparedness Plan and approve or disapprove them with any  appropriate changes or conditions.

One would think that these steps under the Dam Safety sections of the Act would be done very carefully, particularly as if any Loss of Life should subsequently occur from –in this case- a North Spur collapse – criminal charges may be laid.

All this is missing .

If Nalcor has done such a “No Risk” Risk Assessment of North Spur collapse during construction let them make it public.

But don’t hold your breath - Nalcor treats the Provincial government and the public like patsies .

Nalcor, through Gill Bennett , has gone all in – no problem; no need for an Emergency  Plan; no effective regulation.

Ah yes;  Who knew What ? When ?

The Devil take the lot of them- but God protect those downstream.

Cabot Martin writes from St. John's