Thursday, 27 August 2015


Guest Post written by Cabot Martin:

For over a year now, I have been privileged to have the advice of Jim Gordon on the North Spur issue at Muskrat Falls via long phone calls and countless emails – when I have cited him, I’ve usually referred  to him simply as a “very experienced retired hydro engineer” –

Mr. Gordon is, in fact, one of Canada’s most pre-eminent Hydro Engineers.

A graduate in civil engineering from Aberdeen University (First Class Honours), he retains his no nonsense Scottish roots.

His bio reads well.

Only Canadian chosen by the prestigious UK based  International Water Power & Dam Construction Magazine’s as one of the world’s top 60 hydro engineers from 1949 to 2009.

Winner of the ultra-prestigious Rickey Medal by the American Society of Civil Engineers; recipient of a Distinguished Service Award by the Canadian Electrical Association.

Worked on the development of the Gull Island site on the Lower Churchill in the 1970’s.

Worked in 15 countries, and for 9 years he was the Vice-President Hydro with the respected firm of Montreal Engineering; involved in the design of 45 hydro dams; Chief Design Engineer for 6 hydro projects which received awards “for excellence in design” by the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada.

Practiced as a private consultant and served on many Hydro Review Boards, including for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

Authored or co-authored 90 papers in the hydro field and published 44 articles on an array of hydro projects. Mr. Gordon is an exponent of the Hydro Review Board method of preventing bad dam construction decisions. 

His credentials are unassailable.

And now he has stepped forward on the Hatch North Spur Dam Break Study dated June 26, 2015 carried out under constraints by Nalcor.

As set out in the last paragraph of his new report (below), a dam breach at the North spur would likely result in a new river channel at the North Spur eroded down to somewhere between about sea level and 27m below sea level (and cut back far upriver).

As he says such a development is so far below the 20.5m above sea level erosion limit imposed by Nalcor, that a re-evaluation of the Hatch dam break analysis should be undertaken, without a limitation on the erosion depth.

ALERT. This is no small technical point; restriction by Nalcor of the level of erosion drove Hatch’s modelling of North Spur dam break impacts.

Erosion to sea level or 27m below sea level would see the Lower Churchill River cut an entirely new river channel where the North Spur is now located leaving all the powerhouse/dam/spillway facilities now under construction on the south side of the Lower Churchill riverless, waterless, high and dry and of zero economic value.

Leaving this checker uncovered is inexplicable.

The failure of the North Sour is the single greatest risk facing the Muskrat Falls project.

One must ask if the extent of this Project Risk was fully disclosed to bondholders, financiers and the senior federal bureaucrats who recommended federal involvement in this project.

I leave the impact of such a catastrophic event on the calculation of downstream damage and loss of life to further analysis.
Related to this Post:


This issue has been the subject of previous posts on Uncle Gnarley; I will leave it to Mr. Gordon to set out his point of view (received in final form August 26,2015).  

Typical of his Aberdeen roots, he signs the piece below simply as “James L. Gordon P.Eng. (Retired)”.


  1. Given the depth of the big hole that has developed immediately downstream of the North Spur, and the nature of the soil conditions, I am not surprised by the estimated depth resulting from a failure, suggested by Mr. Gordon. Nor am I surprised by Nalcor's Mr. Bennett to use a much higher elevation for erosion.
    I once chatted with Mr Bennett, on the benefit of heatpumps for deduce electricity demand, in support of the "isolated island option". Mr Bennett was not impressed with heatpumps, having a ducted heat pump in his home, and correctly pointing out that they offer little demand reduction at low ambient temperatures. I instructed him, about 2012, I think , at their Holiday Inn promotion, that mini-split heat pumps are very different, and do indeed reduce demand by about 50 percent at low ambient temperatures, and very cost effective. He neither knew this , nor cared to consider it, having been committed to Muskrat Falls. I am of the opinion that Bennett is intelligent, but acts with tunnel vision. Some refer to him as a "cable guy", but regardless, it is unfortunate that he so dismissive of the sound opinions of others. Winston Adams

  2. It is a shame the people downstream are not getting the real story on the potential risk of a failure at the North Spur. Does it take a catastrophic failure to occur before the people working at the site and living downstream get the protection they deserve? Nalcor is the judge and jury on the risk of a landslide and as we can clearly see they made a grave move by wrongly setting the breach level for landslide report they had completed by Hatch. Con O'Brien