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Friday 9 December 2016


Guest Post Written by Cabot Martin

As you read this, various crews at Muskrat Falls are involved in a potentially life and death struggle to contain the raging Lower Churchill River.

They face a leaking coffer dam and rafting ice backed by river flows that, in volume, are 25% greater than those at the mighty Upper Churchill.

The greatest period of risk may well be the next three weeks - they are racing Old Man Winter -  time is of the essence.

We can only wish them well.

Unfortunately Nalcor has not adequately documented and explained the various "during construction" flood risks posed  to downstream residents.

However, we know enough to say that those risks , whether from collapse of the coffer dam or failure of the North Spur, are real and substantial enough to warrant immediate action on the evacuation front.

Concern for these risks can no longer be dismissed as "fear-mongering" as was the case by the Minister responsible for Dam Safety over a year and a half ago.

Indeed, the basic problem is known to many in the halls of power, each with varying degrees of responsibility.

Uncle Gnarley's latest piece records the Independent Engineer's recent graphic description of how Nalcor's Muskrat actions do not meet acceptable engineering standards across a broad range of issues -a refreshing bit of candor indeed; please read as a companion to this piece.

In particular, the Independent Engineer's documentation of Nalcor's  cavalier attitude to North Spur geotechnical issues presents a picture of what only be described as reckless behaviour in not keeping a sharp eye on Muskrat's biggest overall project risk - failure of the North Spur.

Yet, apparently senior Nalcor and relevant governmental officials , presumably relying on legal advice, do not consider these and their other North Spur actions egregious enough to bring them within the realm of a reckless or public endangerment prosecution under the Criminal Code should lives be lost.

Must be a queasy feeling.

But - simply put - there isn't any time right now to debate those issues - as important as they are.   We need to get to that after the present danger has passed.

Right now, our immediate focus should be to pray the North Spur holds, try our best to fix the coffer dam and determine under what circumstances we should evacuate Mud Lake and how the hell are we going to do it.

The 50 souls trying to sleep in Mud Lake tonight deserve that.

It is an old place in Central Labrador, once a main settlement, home to many old trapping families. It is located on the south bank of the Churchill River across from the end of a road that leads a couple of miles up river to Happy Valley/ Goose Bay. This is where in summer Mud Lakers leave their cars and keep their boats on visits to " The Valley".

Better put, they live on the south bank, Venice-like, along the banks of a beautiful small winding bayou like river or large brook that flows out from Mud Lake itself to meet the Churchill River near where that massive river discharges into Lake Melville.

Lake Melville, denying it's name , is a giant inland sea whose tidal rise and fall stretches far up river - in fact more than 25 miles up-river to the very foot of Muskrat Falls - fresh water on top / salt water below.

At Mud Lake, the Churchill River is about a mile across  and residents go back and forth by boat in summer and ski-doo in winter. It is, at the best of times, a treacherous mile - shifting sand bars in summer and rafting ice during freeze up and breakup. A complicated marine/river environment with huge natural water flows - without Muskrat flood levels.

In Mud Lake, the river - it's mood and state is always on people's minds - but never so much as now.

You'd think the safety of 50 people located a couple of feet above tidewater right in the path of any   Muskrat flood would be a priority - someone's priority - anyone's priority.

But apparently not - things are far from right in Mud Lake.

For instance, I am told by a reliable source in Mud Lake that Nalcor has never had a single meeting in that community setting out and discussing the evacuation plan should the coffer dam fail when they, as already announced,  recommence filling the reservoir in the next few weeks.

Not a single meeting.

And as the idea of a "secret " evacuation plan is too bizarre even for Nalcor , one can only assume that such a plan simply does not exist - which circles back ,of course, to "reckless endangerment."

This must change.

Any reasonable risk assessment process would have to treat Coffer Dam collapse this winter as a real risk to Mud Lake - one that will increase with each meter the water rises as the  reservoir filling resumes.

Consequently, Nalcor and the Minister responsible for Dam Safety (Mr. Perry Trimper) should immediately send senior representatives to Mud Lake  for Emergency Evacuation Plan meetings.

They should commit to producing, on a most urgent basis,  an adequate evacuation plan that meets the realities of local conditions ( best described through the eyes of the local residents).

The current plight of the residents of Mud Lake is representative of all that is wrong with Muskrat Falls. It is a good place to start to clean up this mess.

God help us if our society is so debased as to be incapable of this.