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Monday, 8 May 2017


First, I have to relate a little story which will provide some additional context to the purpose of this item. 

Back in October 2014, during the visit of Dr. Stig Bernander who came to the province to conduct field work along the Lower Churchill River, I woke up one morning to find the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland (APEGN) in pursuit of the Professor. The email read that APEGN was trying to contact Dr. Bernander so that the association could cite him for having used “P. Eng.” – the designation which is for the proprietary use of APEGN.

Evidently, APEGN had received a complaint from one of its members - following an advertisement I had posted in the Telegram. The advertisement was placed for the sole purpose of inviting the public to the Bernander Lecture scheduled for presentation at the LSPU Hall. The complaining engineer noted that Bernander had not registered with APEGN and was therefore unqualified to use the engineering designation.

Admittedly, I thought the email peculiar. After all, the octogenarian Professor had come here, pro bono, in response to an important public matter, the North Spur. I thought it rather ungracious – to say the least – that he should be tracked down so that a fee could be collected.

Of course, Dr. Bernander had not come to NL to work. He was on a pro bono – which means unpaid - mission of some considerable importance. He had accepted an invitation from a local group, which included this scribe, to discuss the risk factors of a particular clay, called “quick clay”, which under certain circumstances can reform as a liquid, in which state it can induce a landslide. The North Spur, which forms a major part of the dam at Muskrat contains this material.

It should be noted that engineers studying the geotechnical side of their discipline were, long ago, reading his research at Memorial and in Universities throughout the world – Bernander having conducted ground breaking research in the field of soil mechanics. Dr. Bernander was an expert on quick clay having developed new methodologies to assess landslide risk when the “sensitive” clay is present. It was the subject of his PhD thesis.   

I quickly wrote back APEGN, acknowledged their role as gatekeepers - to what I has assumed was all about professional standards – and explained that if anyone should be cited by the Association it would have to be me – the Professor having played no role in placing the advertisement. 

Of course, I hadn’t just fallen off the turnip truck. I understood what had inspired this complaint and was shocked that the Association had taken the issue up.However I was pleased when Dr. Bernander, having performed a yeoman's public service, left here none the wiser that I had gotten APEGN’s knickers in a knot.

Now, I cite this little – and irksome story – for a couple of reasons. Dr. Bernander's personal history marks a lifetime of dedication to the pursuit of the highest engineering standards. His reasons for coming to the province were a matter of public record – then - and the occasion ought to have been used to honor the man, not to chase him down for either reprimand or a fee.

Though I have not earned possession of the engineer’s iron ring, I can’t help but think APEGN failed to rise to the occasion more wisely. And it has missed several opportunities since.

Several professional engineers have played an enormous part in the Muskrat Falls related writings on this Blog. They afforded me the opportunity to explain highly technical issues which, otherwise, would have been deficient. Others like James L. Gordon, and some using pseudonyms, have contributed their own works.

All the while, APEGN, the professional association which represents all NL engineers have stayed in hiding. The vocal ones have made contributions here, despite obvious limitations, perhaps hoping that APEGN might eventually rise above pettiness, display some courage – and exhibit the purpose of its founding -  the maintenance and pursuit of professional standards.  

Following Bernander’s lecture, wouldn’t it have been reasonable to hear from APEGN, possibly arranging an academic forum on quick clay, perhaps even inviting Dr. Bernander back to participate? But it wasn’t forthcoming.

In July 2015, when I posted the widely read Blog entitled: ENGINEERS BREAK SILENCE ON PROBLEMS AT MUSKRAT FALLS  - the Piece was written with the assistance of several highly qualified and informed engineers - who had worked on the project. They described a plethora of problems – including management and quality control issues. Intervention by APEGN, then, might have helped reduce the continued unravelling of the project.

A 2016 Piece entitled “ENGINEER’S “OPEN LETTER” TELLS PREMIER GET ADVICE, RESET MUSKRAT, written following release of the EY Interim Report, chronicled a litany of problems on the project. It, too, brought not a word from APEGN.   

The Piece entitled MUSKRAT FALLS ESTIMATES A COMPLETE FALSIFICATION, SAYS ENGINEER published January 30, 2017 and one entitled “ALLEGATIONS OF PHONY COST ESTIMATES” published a week later, recorded an engineer who described, at length, how the project estimates had been falsified. He stated, among other things: “I could not put up with falsifying information anymore” 

The allegations are very serious. And they have come not from a layman, but from one who wears the “iron ring”. Still – notwithstanding possibly the worst allegations ever heard about Muskrat – and there have been some doozies - not a word of concern or a plan to investigate was ever uttered by APEGN.

Just last week, commenting upon the aDB Engineering report into the causes of a major formworks collapse in the area of the powerhouse - which occurred on 29th May, 2016 – James L. Gordon a renowned Canadian engineer, with significant industry and academic credentials, wrote:

 “…an engineer looking at the towers would immediately observe the errors in fabrication, installation and deterioration due to weathering. This indicates that either no engineers inspected the structure, an almost impossible conclusion, or, more likely, they were totally inexperienced to such an extent that their competence to practice engineering in Newfoundland should be questioned!”

But, again, from APEGN there is not a word.

APEGN hides behind the requirement that it will investigate if one of its membership lodges a formal complaint against another member. Yet, its leadership knows full well that such a step will lead to the complainant getting “black-balled” by their employer – especially if it happens to be Nalcor.

The system allows the APEGN leadership to remain flat-footed. It seems none of them can break free from the stranglehold of commerciality and self-interest notwithstanding the Code of Ethics to which every engineer is sworn.

An engineering debacle continues to unfold at Muskrat Falls.

A badly burned public has a right to expect that institutions will hold their own members to account.

That any such utterance might have put them off-side with some of the folks at Nalcor, which has worked hard on the current environment of studied silence and of intimidation towards those who would dare disclose the ugly truth about the Muskrat Falls project, could have been seen as a commitment to professionalism, to excellence.

But, as it stands, APEGN remains aloof - professional standards be damned.

They do many of their members a great disservice just as they ignore what they might learn - including courage - from professionals like Dr. Stig Bernander, James L. Gordon and other engineers who have tried to be heard.