Sea to Sky highway retaining walls safety inspection reports released, raise more questions on quality of build and maintenance.

One of the advantages to blogging is the ability to follow up on stories as many times as one needs to get to the bottom of it. And as is becoming more common with stories involving the BC provincial government, it’s a matter of digging deeper,looking beyond the ministry media handler statements and sometimes going back and comparing them to new ones.

Such is the story of everything to do with the Sea to Sky highway, that lovely scenic drive and engineering marvel that takes one out to Squamish and Whistler. Not only scenic, its construction,cost and maintenance has been a source of many stories that give British Columbians a glimpse into how major projects are built and paid for.

Stories like the reason there why will never be a toll on that highway – at least until the current contractual obligations are paid out. The hidden shadow toll is based on vehicle usage counts and distance, and is included as a part of the total payment to the concessionaire ( the private partners the government must pay back every month for footing the bill of the construction) If you are a newer reader, you can find all those stories on my Best Of page, just over half way down :

Another story that has been just as compelling for me because of the potential implications of the research, revolves around the more than 200 retaining walls built along the Sea to Sky highway.

On April 30th, 2014 I broke the story that the Ministry of Transportation was investigating the condition of a series of retaining walls after photos were taken that showed gaps between blocks, seepage outside of drains, blocked drains, and walls that were wavy and in some cases bulging.

The ministry responded on  May 1st,2014, that they had done their own investigation and that the issues were all merely cosmetic in nature.

In November of 2014, it was discovered that Kiewit had inspected their own work as per a Ministry of Transportation Operation managers emails, who advised the ministry was reviewing what Kiewit had discovered.

It was then revealed – not by government but by a resident in the area of the repair – in April,2015 that two other retaining walls on the Sea to Sky highway that showed little to no visible defects, were undergoing extensive repair work.

Transportation minister Todd Stone was on the hot seat in the legislature looking nervous that week, but instead of answering any meaningful questions he tried to deny,deflect and discredit the opposition who were finally doing their job well.

Just days later it was revealed by yet another Ministry of Transportation manager that Kiewit, the builder of the highway, had used substandard materials.

Repairs have been ongoing this summer at the Pasco Road rebuild and at the CN rail overpass near Brandywine falls past Squamish, and in both cases the repairs are extensive in scope.  But why such extensive rebuilds?

An FOI  requested and released to someone in the media in August of this year, gives some insight into what went wrong on these two walls in particular. And the results are damning.

A letter dated June 17th,2014 from Hatch Mott McDonald to Sea to Sky highway builder Kiewit,  states that Kiewit flagged those two walls for internal review and testing, after an internal Kiewit audit showed the possibility that deformed wire was used in the walls instead of the contract standard wire. ( pg 98-106 below)

The safety inspection reports also show that despite the Ministries earlier claim in May 2014 that a full investigation had already been undertaken of the walls, the safety inspections were not conducted until October 2014, a full 5 months after I first broke the story.

The FOI package includes  just 12 inspection reports from 2013. In all, most walls were rated well, with several in the fair to poor range for particular components. All the issues identified by the photos posted here previously are noted, including erosion, drainage issues, water seeping between blocks, misaligned blocks, walls built of out line resulting in a wavy formation, bulges of compacted fill walls, a result of over compaction during construction.

Motion sensors also tracked movement on the walls reported here earlier for a period of time and no significant motion was detected.

However, questions remain as to how and why substandard material was used in the construction of the CN wall and the Pasco Road wall, and why it took until this point in time to address it.

Questions also remain as to why walls clearly built out of line and with defects were approved as acceptable for completion, considering the cost of building this highway. This is something I have never been able to get an answer on from the ministry of Transportation but is concerning to me for a couple of reasons.

  1. The highway is only  6 years old in some areas. To have so many issues that need maintenance and repair -some that are extensive- at such a young age indicates issues during construction that someone still signed off on. If things are popping up so quickly, and in at least a couple of cases are still not being addressed, what can we expect for the longevity of this highway?
  2. Kiewit is on half of the partnership with Flatiron that built the Port Mann Bridge, which also had very tight contractual deadlines, and also experienced significant issues during construction. The continual decline and eventual replacement of a brand new retaining wall on Lougheed Highway and the gantry collapse are just two. Kiewit has had a long history of issues in the US and elsewhere in Canada, which are detailed here.

With industry sources indicating there have already been incidents of spalling under the  new Port Mann ( falling concrete bits and pieces) and geotechnical issues with settlement.soft earth at both the north and south ends, one wonders if  BC’s great transportion projects will suffer the same crumbling fate as those in Montreal. 

Calls to the Ministry of Transportation made this morning, were not returned as of the time of this posting. I’m not surprised – I would have hard time explaining how an $800 million plus highway ended up like this too. ( and that doesn’t include the 25 years of PS payments either…)

Pasco Road retaining wall rebuild.
Pasco Road retaining wall rebuild.

IMG_20150819_142012 (2)

“…the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards….”

A wise man once told me that the best thing for any organization to do when facing a potentially explosive public relations issue was to “tell the truth, tell it all, and tell it damn quick.”

First the issues were cosmetic in nature only.

Then, a ministry employee said ” no significant structural issues were identified.”

And when it was discovered major structural repairs were about to start on a 4th wall, repairs that include building a new reinforced wall and inserting soil anchors, the minister said they were routine maintenance and attacked the NDP for not building anything when they were in government…

Today we get a little closer to the truth with a story from Jane Seyd of the North Shore News:

Ashok Bhatti, district manager for the Ministry of Transportation and Highways south coast region, said repairs are needed because a review of the project showed the contractor who built the wall — Peter Kiewit and Sons — used parts in the retaining wall that do not meet ministry standards. Bhatti said the wall has been tested by engineers, and there are no safety concerns. But over the lifespan of the highway, problems could develop….”

– See more at:

This just brings another level of questions for the young minister of transportation, Todd Stone, because this manager just opened a huge can of worms.

What parts are faulty?

Does the MOT manager mean parts below engineered level or parts of faulty material?

What about faulty installation?

Over compacted, drainage under engineered or wrongly changed?  And on, and on…. you get the picture.Is it is a matter of Kiewit cutting costs by using materials that were less than what was called for? Were they aware of the faulty parts?

 Where is the due diligence of the government?  What about the INDEPENDENT Quality Control guy who was on Kiewit’s payroll? Who signed off on all these materials?

 And since it’s often the case that many of the same materials and components used on a major infrastructure project are sourced from the same supplier, the ministry now needs to come clean on every single detail. It doesn’t matter if Kiewit is paying for this. It matters that this even happened in the first place.

Somebody has some explaining to do, and this time the people deserve to hear an actual answer, not more denial,deflection and discrediting.

 ** If you have any information or tips relating to this story, please contact me confidentially via the contact page above.

Denial, deflect, discredit.

When I published the photos of the conditions of just three of the 219 retaining walls on the Sea to Sky Highway last year, the Ministry of Transportation said the issue was merely cosmetic, and that the walls are inspected annually. 

Then the news that in fact a fourth retaining wall needed significant  structural repairs such as soil anchors installed, along with a new reinforced wall face. Work would take 6 months. Residents below the wall were rightfully angry at the inconvenience,and distrustful of the contradiction between the need for repairs… and the word that everything was fine.

NDP transportation critic Claire Trevena had some questions for Transportation Minister Todd Stone in the legislature earlier this week, and I promised a transcript for you. Better yet,Ms.Trevena has posted a video so that you may see for yourself the questions Ms. Trevena asked… and the answers Mr. Stone gave.

I’m not sure whose questions he was answering,but they certainly weren’t the ones she was asking.

This is your government in action. He denied, deflected and then tried to discredit because he did not want to answer these questions. Nor was he ordered to answer the question despite his foray into the Netherlands of his mapped route of deflection.

It wasn’t until much later that Minister Stone advised media Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group  would be covering all the costs for the repairs,and that ” making repairs like this to a project just five years after its completion is normal.

Actually, according to project documents, the design lifespan for these retaining walls is 75 years:

Pg 6 here

Pg 4 here:

Installing soil anchors that help hold the wall in place, and building an entirely new reinforced wall face, are not normal, routine repairs. It would be comparable to buying a brand new home only to move in and a year later, find out the foundation needs to be re-done.

Would you consider that normal? No.

And lets not forget those Ministry of Transportation emails I have contradicting the first public claim that walls are inspected annually – made last year – and Stones new statement that staff are inspecting things daily around the province.

Or that according to that same Ministry employee, Kiewit found no changes or anything of concern with the walls in question.

Which is more than likely the reason why Kiewit and the S2S Transportation Group is on the hook now which for what is clearly a defective wall.

Some of you might be wondering why this matters, or why this really pisses me off so much, so let me tell you. If you don’t care, move along.

I’ve always been a bit of a policy wonk who endlessly thinks of ways to make a better province. So, back in 2008 when I was really more than a bit peeved that the Golden Ears and the Port Mann was to be tolled, while the Sea to Sky highway was not, I started doing some research to find out why those decisions were made.

In my view then, it was ridiculous that the Golden Ears was tolled while the Sea to Sky was not. A responsible government would take advantage of the traffic out to one of our most scenic drives and tourist destinations, make it resident/business exempt and charge tolls: you want to play, you have to pay. I feel the same way now,but sadly the last Liberal government signed away the right to toll that highway on the P3 contract.

By October 2009, still developing my contacts and sources, I had yet to find out why that highway wasn’t tolled. And again, I called for tolls on that highway as a source of revenue for this province.   ( of course no one listened to me back then, I was just a blogger… : )
It wasn’t until 2010 that sources in the industry revealed to me the reason why it was never tolled… and never would be until the contract with the P3 partner was up.

And that was the beginning of the now infamous Shadow Toll series that ended up receiving national coverage courtesy of Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. 

I had received confidential documents from insiders to the deal that had  signed confidentiality agreements not to speak about the project details until it was done. And when it was done, they revealed all, in conferences, in bulletins and much more. Financiers bragged of the lucrative nature of the shadow tolls… something our government affectionately refers to as ” vehicle usage payments”.  The private partner makes so much money on this highway, that the financer sold their share to a private fund a couple of years ago.

Now, every time you or I drive that highway, we inadvertently help make a reliable and strong rate of return on other people’s retirement investments. In a wobbly world economy, P3 projects like this highway are considered a very safe investment.

But I digress.

In the face of all this documented, now public evidence,  our government when confronted, lied to the press, taking advantage of the lack of specific industry and contract terminology knowledge they had. They said it wasn’t true.

I couldn’t believe it. (If you care to spend a bit of time rehashing all of it, head over to the Best Of page where  it is still listed.

There were more stories uncovered that again, were denied, deflected and the effort to discredit was intense. And it still is whenever a column or blog post hits home. Reporters often like to say when the fire is incoming over your shoulder you know you are close to your target: there is trash talk, there are rumours,anything to deflect the attention from the story at hand.

Just like Todd Stones response to Claire Trevena. He won’t simply say the contractor screwed up and we are likely going to have some serious repairs coming all over this highway but we don’t want to talk about that…..because it opens a massive barrel of worms no government anywhere would want to talk about.

Ask Quebec.

He starts talking about how the NDP had issues or opposed projects while the Liberals built them. And on. And then some more.

And he never does answer how it is that a highway that cost so much damn money, is needing serious structural repairs after only 5 years.

Nor does he take the chance to negate all of this by providing the inspection reports that Kiewit conducted or agreeing to an independent agency review of those walls.

Why does this matter?

Because the funny thing about retaining walls is that it can be pretty hard to predict what going on behind them. Kiewit already did substandard work on one retaining wall on the Port Mann Project that had to be rebuilt. And court cases resulted following the collapse of of a highway widening project retaining wall that collapsed during construction in California. And while the walls on the sea to sky may not be in danger of collapsing,the province refuses to be straightforward about any of this.

So,yes, those inspection reports of Kiewits on these retaining walls do matter. Because like the shadow toll story, this one is becoming rife with contradictions,spin and deflections.

But what do I know? I’m just a writer, not a transportation minister.

Keep calm and carry on- I will return to blogging soon.

There’s something more than a little ironic about having tennis elbow when you don’t even play tennis.

For a while it’s been quite bothersome to sit,write and research for any extended amount of time, as my left elbow and forearm developed carpal tunnel like symptoms.It comes and goes,but after spending an inordinate amount of time over the past months researching several Ministry of Transportation stories that are related,it’s clear a break was needed from sitting at this desk if it’s going to get better.

This has reduced the postings here significantly, limiting my online activity to my weekly column for 24Hrs Vancouver and social media interactions on facebook and twitter done with my phone. Rest, followed by a change in how I sit and type at my desk should remedy this-it’s nothing terribly serious,just terribly irritating  when I have things piling up here to write about!

The Ministry of Transportation stories are longer features and I think you’ll find them interesting, in particular as we get closer to any more discussion on the Massey Bridge.

While this sector has been under examination in other provinces, British Columbia has still largely escaped intense scrutiny, and that’s a shame. Sometimes the most important stories, are the ones that have yet to be told.

Be well, spend some time reading the Best Of page and I’ll be back soon.

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” ~ John Le Carre

Wise words for many policy makers who often seem to demonstrate a lack of empathy and understanding of how the real world works for the average person, perhaps because they spend more time behind their desk than out and about connecting with real people

There will be no Duel column next Monday, so I’ll be taking a rest until after the Family day holiday and will be back with a couple of stories,one involving Kiewit- again- next week.

However, today let me share with you this story from Sam Cooper, which serves as a good pre-curser for my story next week.

Vancouver Island RCMP have reopened a high-profile workplace death case that occurred six years ago, investigating under a rarely prosecuted criminal law.

In February 2009, 24-year-old Sam Fitzpatrick was crushed to death by a large boulder while completing a work assignment on a Toba Inlet mountainside. Arlen Fitzpatrick, who worked on site, saw his older brother die.

Unsatisfied with the results of a WorkSafe B.C. probe, their father Brian Fitzpatrick has for years argued that the employer, Omaha-based construction giant Kiewit, is criminally responsible.

He said Thursday that after months of contact with the RCMP, the force recently informed him a fresh investigation is under way.

Great news, and timely considering the recent finding in Washington State for ‘willful and serious safety violations” that put the lives of workers into danger.

See you soon,and enjoy your long weekend here in BC ( this long weekend might be the only real legacy of Premier Clark that’s turned out well!)

Sea to Sky retaining wall questions continue as ministry employee emails indicate Kiewit inspected their own work.

With ongoing rainstorms and occasional flooding that has hit many areas on the north shore recently, water drainage and erosion is a concern to many. This of course jogged my memory to look for an update on a story I broke earlier this year.

On April 30th, I posted a story with photos that illustrated  many visible concerns  and defects of several retaining walls along the Sea to Sky Highway in West Vancouver/Lions Bay area.

Among them, bulging walls, block movement, blocked drains and more. Before you continue, I suggest a quick look back to get yourself up to speed on this, or refresh your memory:

The ministries response at that time to the defects identified in the photos was they had done their own inspection,the issue was cosmetic and did not affect the structural integrity of the walls.

However, further photos taken more recently continued to show outward bulges in the walls-something recognized by both government and industry as a potential indicator of stress  or deterioration that should be assessed and monitored.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As mentioned above,in May of this year ministry officials stated that they had inspected the walls following receipt of the photos.

However,email correspondence from a Ministry of Transportation operations manager in September of this year,indicated it was actually highway builder Kiewit, that had inspected and reviewed the walls:

“I am out of town at the moment but wanted to give you a quick update.  We just received some information from Peter Keiwett regarding the walls in Horseshoe Bay.

Their investigation and review did not note any changes or concerns with the walls.

We are reviewing what was submitted.” 

I contacted the operations manager in question, “to confirm whether or not MOTH( ministry of transportation and highways) had reviewed the Kiewit inspections of the MSE( mechanically stabilized earth) retaining walls on the Sea to Sky, and what the findings were.
Has the ministry done their own inspection since the photos were taken?”

His response:

Thank you for getting in touch with me on the status of the retaining walls built as part of the Sea to Sky project.  To answer your question, Yes our team have reviewed the correspondence/documentation and walls along the Upper Levels.

 I’ll also note that the walls underwent an inspection in 2013 and another routine inspection is planned for 2018, as per the Ministry’s standard frequency of every five years for this type of structure.  There were no significant structural issues identified during the inspections.”


The operations manager has not responded to further questions clarifying the statement that ” no ‘significant’ structural issues” were identified, which seems to indicate that structural issues may have been identified but not considered to be significant in nature.

To summarize, the province initially stated the defects were all cosmetic in May. The September email from the operation manager stated Kiewit’s inspection found no changes or concerns, and now the response from that same operations manager states no ‘significant’ structural issues.

The multi-million dollar question remains: what exactly is the problem with these bulging and out of plumb retaining walls?

I question the process that allows the builder Kiewit to inspect their own work prior to a full review by provincial employees or engineers.

Kiewit was the builder of the now infamous retaining wall on Lougheed Highway that failed and finally had to be partially torn down and rebuilt after it was determined it would not meet provincial building standards.

Kiewit also made the news pertaining to a retaining wall collapse in California, in which Kiewit, a subcontractor and the project designer are all suing each other: Kiewit claims the product was defective, while the subcontractor accuses Kiewit of inadequate drainage design and installation.

And of course, who can forget the American Kiewit story that prompted the Ministry of Transportation to issue a statement of confidence in the companies involvement in many provincial projects, including the Port Mann bridge project

Pennsylvania DOT ( Department of Transportation) has a stringent guideline for examination of MSE retaining walls and cross indexing the issues shown in the photos with the following list, several indicators can be checked off:

-bulging, bowing, panel offset, visibility of backfill or geotextile fabric, variation in joint spacing,

Pennsylvania DOTstandards














The province previously assured the public the walls are safe.

The question that taxpayers should now be asking- in particular since this wall is only about 5 years old- is whether or not the flaws that have become evident were built into the wall from the very beginning.

( interesting to note here the private partner was never able to get the electronic sensing equipment installed in the highway to work properly either, as reported on page 24 of the BC auditors report , linked to on the Auditor Generals site here: and here )

The ministry representative and operation manager have not responded further to the following questions:

1) What structural issues-minor or not- have been discovered and what is the plan for remediation?

2) Are any costs involved covered by warranty  or does the province absorb the cost?

3) Who has signed off on the integrity of the wall?


Troubling photos spark Ministry of Transportation inspections of Sea to Sky retaining walls, creating new concerns over Kiewit construction.

The Ministry of Transportation is investigating the condition of at least three MSE ( Mechanically Stabilized Earth) retaining walls along the Sea to Sky Highway, according to sources close to the project.

This action finally comes after specific Ministry employee’s received the photos shown below – in February of this year – that show clear flaws, deficiencies and structural concerns that sources indicate out-of-spec walls. Major defects show large open gaps in the concrete panels, water seepage behind walls, walls that are “out of batter” ( leaning the wrong way) and possible vertical movement of the walls. *terminology link found here for reference.

In some areas, the gaps are so wide that the tongue and groove elements are no longer meshed and it is possible to reach in and feel the geotextile cloth behind. While the photos were taken earlier this year in a cold snap, follow-up visits during rainy weather have shown very little water coming out of installed drainage pipes installed for such purpose, and a build up of water behind the wall with seepage from under the wall in other areas.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In speaking with several industry sources who have assisted me on prior MOT project stories ( who would only speak off the record fearing reprisals or backlash in the industry), the photos are concerning for two reasons.

First, these type of MSE retaining walls should be built to spec to last for approximately 70 years. That these walls are showing sign of defects within years of construction is not acceptable,nor is it standard. Sources indicate this is above and beyond what would be normal settlement.

Water and faulty construction are two major reasons behind MSE retaining wall failures.

Water on its own, not properly directed via drainage conduits to exit or bypass the wall in specific areas, can undermine the backfill behind a wall, leading to serious erosion and the potential for wall failures. Water can cause irreparable damage to retaining walls if not controlled and directed and can have catastrophic consequences, as this engineering publication details :

When water flows
About 90 percent of soil problems are really water problems. Most retaining wall failures occur during heavy rainstorms. Recently, a 43-foot-tall “big block” MSE wall failed during a heavy rain just eight months after it was built, launching 2,400-pound blocks more than 50 feet when the wall popped. This wall failed during a storm, even though it had survived earlier, heavier rains. It appears that the earlier storms caused the wall’s drains to clog, and therefore this subsequent storm contributed to the failure.”

Water is also incredibly destructive in the winter freeze/thaw cycle – winter freezing in this case will continue to damage these walls, pushing the panels further apart because as water freezes, it expands with a tremendous force. Follow that up with typical heavy rains and spring melt run-off and it doesn’t take an engineer to tell you there could be a big problem.

This is why the drainage systems in the walls are so important,and why it needs to be determined why some of the drains on these walls are not working. Sources indicate the backfill on some of these walls may have been over-compacted by over-loaded rock trucks used to bring the fill on site. If the drainage system was damaged or crushed by too much weight, or improperly engineered, the drainage issues will continue, as will costly damage.

The second issue on these walls is one of accountability.

With all the ” Value for Money” touted by Partnerships BC on the Sea to Sky highway improvement project, where is the value in a retaining wall that allegedly doesn’t meet the standards for a 70 year life? Who inspected this wall and signed off on it? There is no monitoring equipment on the wall, how often are these walls inspected? Who did the quality control? At this point, the question of who would be liable at this point comes into play as the Province of BC signed off on the final project.

This isn’t the first retaining wall Kiewit has had issues with locally.

In 2011, Kiewit had to tear down and rebuild parts of a retaining wall that was found to be ” structurally unfit” along Lougheed Hwy, on the Port Mann Highway One project. According to Transportation Investment Corporation – the crown corporation overseeing the project- Kiewit was to cover the entire cost of the repairs.

Kiewit has also been involved in litigation in the U.S. following the massive failure of one retaining wall, that lead to the tear down and replacement of another 14 retaining walls along the Caltrans 405 Freeway project in California.

” Kiewit, SSL, as well as the project’s designer, global firm HNTB, are in all court, suing one another. In court documents, Kiewit alleges the wall system was “deficient and defective.” SSL has stated the “drain design and installation were inadequate” at the site where the wall collapsed, according to the Caltrans report.”

Internal ministry sources indicate Transportation Minister Todd Stone is aware of this issue and has also seen these photos.

While sources indicate that the retaining walls shown in these photos are not likely to suffer a catastrophic failure, the photos are concerning because in some areas below the retaining walls, there are homes. There is no crash wall below these retaining walls either, to prevent a vehicle that might go over the edge from crashing completely down the slopes below. There is no guarantee what would happen in an earthquake, or following heavy rains and runoff, which is why these issues need to be addressed.

Considering there are 219 MSE retaining walls on this project, finding signs like this in just three walls easily accessible, raises questions to the status of all the walls, in particular because of the very tight construction deadlines on this project and Kiewits history.

After all, since we are all paying for this highway everytime someone travels it, via the ‘ shadow toll’ portion of the payment to the concessionaire, I think the public is entitled to a little more than lip service on this one.

**Follow up post here:

Coming next week….

I’ve received quite a few emails this summer from readers wondering why I haven’t been covering the activities of the BC government, considering this years summer session of the Legislature, and a variety of scandals and stories that have emerged.

Quite frankly, summer is yet another silly season for the news, when the majority of people are interested in anything but politics. Kids are out of school, people are camping, at the cottage, or simply enjoying the endless beauty of all this sunshine at local parks and beaches. Even those who are stuck working are more interested in coming home to spend an evening on the patio or in the yard, than worrying about what the government is doing….

This is very likely why a summer session was held in the first place. A very strategic move, politically, for the new premier and her government, to escape the scrutiny of the public.

Recognizing that by far, the majority of people are not poli-geeks like most of us,my strategy has been to compile a list of all the important stories and scandals that broke in July, and will likely continue throughout August.  When September arrives and the spell of summer is beginning to wane,many BC residents will once again start turning back to the news and blogs to see what’s been going on… and at that time, everything old will be new again. I’m sure everyone will be quite surprised to see what their new premier and her government have been up to over the summer!

In addition, the results of a variety of Freedom of Information requests submitted and received over the summer will make for an interesting post on spending at the municipal level of government, also in September.

For now, I’m picking and choosing my stories as interest and importance dictate. On Monday of course, you’ll find next weeks column for The Duel with Brent Stafford.

On Tuesday, I will have the follow-up to the post on the BNSF bridge in South Surrey, with some interesting data and information I’ve located and some that the best data-miner in the country sent me, the man affectionately known as North Van Grumps.

Following that, will be a story I’ve been sitting on since last year about a company whose activities in B.C. I’ve written extensively on – Kiewit. That story will be of interest to all Canadians, in particular those who are in Alberta.

And somewhere in all of that, I’ve got some thoughts on one of the biggest threats to Canadian sovereignty.

Today however, and for the weekend, I’m going to do what everyone else in Canada is doing, and enjoy the lovely weather!  I suggest you try and do the same. :)


The top post of 2012 on “How money and corruption are ruining the land.” originally posted June 19th, 2012

Corruption in government has been on many readers minds this year, backed up by this story, first posted here back in June, which received a whopping number of unique views, catching the attention of readers and governments alike, around the world.

As a precursor to coming stories, I urge you to read this post, and the report, and think about the less sensational side of corruption, the side we don’t often see.

And think about, why most people in B.C. who were approached during the investigation leading to this report…. refused to even talk about it.

“Money and corruption are ruining the land…”

Posted on June 19, 2012by

“…crooked politicians betray the working man, pocketing the profits, treating us like sheep, and we’re tired of hearing promises that we know they’ll never keep.” ~ Ray Davies

Here on this site, I have revealed many breaking news stories of secret deals,evidence of corruption, collusion and a number of other shameful instances of how ‘money and corruption’ are ruining the land – our land here in British Columbia.

Sea to Sky Highway Shadow Tolls and the insidious relationship between the BC Liberals and long time, private partner Macquarie. The same partner that oddly, still managed to keep a position as advisor to the Port Mann project after a failed P3 bid, the terms of which remain secret to this day.

Canada Line construction and the ongoing, equally insidious relationship between SNC Lavalin and the BC Liberals.

Tercon vs British Columbia, a landmark case where the Ministry of Transportation and several high level government employees altered documents and hid details to purposely rig a bid and give a large contract to another ‘ preferred’ bidder.

You name it, there is not a P3 deal, nor a major transportation project that I have not examined,with confidential documents or hard sourced evidence, that does not give rise to an extensive list of questions about the governments ad hoc policies, and the lack of integrity in the bidding process. ( For newer readers, each can be read in detail, on the Best Of page up top)

Throughout these stories, there remained a dark undercurrent that repeats itself time and time again. In many stories, there are what I would consider clear indications of unethical and questionable behavior that lean towards collusion and influence of officials, both crimes in Canada under the competition bureau and of which I have previously written.

Yet we see no investigations.

Business continues as usual, from Gordon Campbell  onto yet an even more disastrous leader, Christy Clark, who has openly discussed her relationship with a powerful man who remained on the Board of Directors for SNC Lavelin – while the company has ongoing contracts and new bids outstanding.

Surprised? Shocked?… Why ?

This is how it works in British Columbia, not unlike how it works in Quebec. We just seem to have perfected the ability to fly under that radar.

This is the preferred way of doing business that most bureacrats with the provincial government, have no problem with…. and one that spans all ministries – none have been exempt from scandal or inference of preferred bidders.

People like myself rely on close sources and data-mining to acquire evidence and documentation of contract and project details kept hidden from the public, since most FOI requests result in pages of useless redacted information.

Earlier this year, CBC did a brief story online, on a study conducted by the ministry of Public Safety into corruption in the construction industry in B.C. and in Quebec. The only real details given to the press on this report,which was not released, were that very few wanted to talk about the issue of  construction corruption in B.C. , despite the fact that the construction industry overall, was at a medium to high risk of corruption in this province.

Imagine that.

So few of the people or organizations contacted wanted to talk about this issue of corruption in commercial construction – and by association of public sector projects, the government –  that it made it difficult to get a firm vision of what exactly is going on.

In fact, the report relied on many anonymous sources in some instances to get the information needed to make an assessment.In spite of this aura of reluctance and opposition to prying questions, the report did manage to uncover some revealing ways our public projects are at risk for corruption… and the way our government makes this possible.

The report in question was released informally to me by the federal government recently following an FOI request, and confirms much of what I have reported here in many stories over the last few years. I recommend a read of the entire report, for the insight it offers into the problems facing large public projects here in B.C.

Here are some highlights:

  • Investigators found that the most vulnerable aspect of the commercial construction process, including public projects, was the procurement process ( bid process) and project management. Sources indicated officials responsible for procurement were often uninformed about the cost of construction project costs and the lack of accountability and transparency in the bidding process across Canada was noted.
  • Investigators found many factors that contributed to an environment where bribery and fraud flourished and were nearly impossible to detect,including the large scale of public projects,the uniqueness and complexity of projects,the concealment of some items of work by others, the lack of transparency in the industry and the extent of government involvement.
  • Situations that facilitate the formation of construction cartels and bribery, included the size of the project. Some projects like dams, power plants and highways that are extremely large in nature and costly,making it easier to hide bribes and over inflated  claims. It was also noted these larger projects often have a limited number of bidders, and those bidders are often well known to public officials and other bidders, again facilitating bribes and cartels.
  • Lack of transparency – costs are often kept secret even when public money is being spent. Commercial confidentiality takes precedent over public interest, and publication of financial information and routine inspection of books and records which could uncover irregularities or prevent them, does not take place. ( in the case of the Sea to Sky highway project, companies participating in the project had to sign confidentiality agreements preventing them from talking about their involvement in the project in some cases, for up to 7 years, as you can read in the Sea to Sky shadow toll series on the Best Of page at the top of my site – Laila)
  • The extent of government involvement– There is significant government involvement in public projects. Even private sector projects require government approval at different levels. The power wielded by government officials in every stage of the construction process,when combined with the structural and financial complexity of these projects, makes it quite easy for unscrupulous government officials to extract large bribes from those undertaking the projects.
  • The impact of corruption in projects goes beyond bribes and fraud, to poor-quality construction and low funding for maintenance. Because much of the infrastructure is hidden behind concrete or brick, builders can cut costs, bribe inspectors to approve sub-standard construction leading to poor quality construction.

( In Quebec, years of this kind of construction on public infrastructure is creating a problem for the province, with crumbling bridges and overpasses that need extensive rehabilitation. Will we see the same thing happen here in British Columbia with some of our major transportation and infrastructure projects? Certainly many projects have already shown evidence of substandard quality, via the expansion joints on the William R Bennett bridge in Kelowna, and the ever collapsing retaining wall on Lougheed, part of the Port Mann project. – Laila)

  • Sources in British Columbia indicated that government officials responsible for the procurement process ( tender and bidding process) lack the required experience in relation to the commercial construction process.

Many who did have the experience retired or moved onto the private sector. Government officials often failed to follow their own procurement policies. ( I have explored this in detail on a previous post, where a source revealed to me that often, the officials in charge of a project will rely on employees of a bidding company for direction, via hiring them as a consultant in the process. Fairness reviewers deemed with examining the bid process for fairness, are often seen as being in a perceived conflict via work with the government on other projects- Laila)

It is simply not acceptable, nor is it in the publics interest, to allow often incompetent, and more often unethical business practices to continue within the B.C. government. It absolutely must stop.

In 2010, in following final ruling of the decade long Tercon vs. British Columbia court case, I said the following:

“.. What is needed is a full and independent inquiry into the actions of the government then, and now, to reveal the truth of what is going on in that portfolio. If the government intends to stand by its claim of administering an honest and open government with integrity, let it start with the Basi-Virk trial upon our doorstep, and end with the Tercon Judgement. The integrity of the entire bidding process, the future of local industry in our province, and what little faith we may have remaining in our elected officials, depends on it.”

That was 2010. As we know, the Basi-Virk trial was shut down faster than a bear trap snaps its victim, and while Vaughn Palmer picked up the Tercon story, the government denied and ignored any lingering questions.

Two years later, we find ourselves with a premier who campaigned on bringing open government to the people and then quickly revealed herself as being more secretive than Campbell ever was. A premier who mandates transparency and accountability to ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely to give British Columbians a better quality of life… but applies that mandate selectively, targeting her foes and protecting her friends.

I say now, that this report bolsters and supports my repeated calls for a full investigation  and public inquiry into the public procurement process within all ministries of the government of British Columbia, and the sooner the better.

To do anything other, is to condone corruption within government by our elected officials -a concept which should have never been tolerable in the first place.

Public Safety Construction Corruption Report PDF format ( I will be happy to email you a copy of this report upon request)

Port Mann Bridge builder Kiewit faces construction concerns in the U.S.

Intrepid reporter Dave White of News 1130, came across a big story today….–concerns-raised-in-us-around-bc-highways-contractor

“SEATTLE (NEWS1130) – Some alleged major problems with massive construction projects have been exposed in the US, involving a contractor also hired to build and maintain BC highways. The accusations centre around work done by Kiewit.

One of the apparent problems is near Seattle where Kiewit is rebuilding the SR 520 Floating Bridge over Lake Washington. Tracy Vedder is an investigative reporter with KOMO News; she tells us pontoons built to float the bridge may be failing.

“They’re basically marine structures,” she describes. “They need to be able to float and they need to be watertight. The first cycle of six pontoons that came out of Aberdeen that were constructed primarily by the prime contractors, Kiewit, has developed … quite extensive leaks.”

She says Kiewit is being investigated in California after allegations of construction flaws on the $6.5-billion rebuild of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

“There were some significant construction issues,” she tells us. “It’s being built specifically to withstand a major earthquake in the future.”

Vedder had difficulty getting a response from Kiewit, but they eventually got in touch. “They did say that they stand firmly behind the safety and quality of the work they’ve done in all of the bridges they’ve built in North America.”

However, the company deferred her questions about the SR520 project to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Vedder says this all comes as the Seattle Mariners sue Kiewit for problems with steel structures at Safeco Field.

She emphasizes her work isn’t done yet. “There’s a lot more to find out.”

In an e-mail from a BC Ministry of Transportation spokesperson, the province says it has complete confidence in Kiewit-Flatiron, and that the contractor was selected after an extensive and multifaceted process. The ministry insists work on projects like the Sea to Sky Highway and Port Mann/Highway 1 Improvement Project has been frequently audited to ensure the highest standards are met, and that any problems found are the responsibility of Kiewit to repair.

Kiewit has had its problems in BC, most recently with a retaining wall rebuild at the Cape Horn Interchange. WorkSafe BC also investigated a worker’s death from a falling boulder at a dam project in 2008 in which safety provisions were brought into question.

News1130 has made requests for comment from Kiewit. We’re hoping to hear back from the the contractor today”

Interesting news and compelling to those who follow the transportation titans in BC closely, like both Dave and I do.

Do a little more searching on this Seattle floating bridge story and you find a host of other issues associated with that bridge, like workers drinking on the job, and contract terms that mean lucrative bonuses for the builder on one end… even if their own delays on the other end were behind it.

More alarming, are public records that indicate Kiewit installed faulty components despite being advised by a Washington State DOT engineer that he could not structurally approve it:

“Now the Problem Solvers have uncovered a new structural problem buried in thousands of documents we obtained through the Public Records Act: The type of structural weakness that could be as catastrophic as WSDOT’s own animation from 2007 depicting how the old bridge might come apart in a severe windstorm.  The key is the joints between pontoons and how they are connected with rebar called Hook Bars.

Internal WSDOT e-mails from last spring show that structural rebar in Pontoon V was “missing”. WSDOT’s own engineer Patrick Clarke noted that he could not “structurally approve it” without those essential pieces.  In spite of that, documents show that contractor Kiewit opted to ignore Clarke’s recommendations for repair, and quote “proceed at risk”.

Kiewit went on to do the same with the two other large pontoons so all three now on the lake are missing that critical rebar.  A second WSDOT engineer also found this was “not structurally acceptable.”  Documents and our insider also indicate that, just like in the WSDOT animation, the loss of that critical rebar would weaken the joints by as much as 50 percent, and could cause a similar “unravelling” in a severe, 100 year, windstorm event. “

The KOMO investigative reporter, Tracy Vedder, displays her exacting nature for facts in this telling email exchange between the herself and officials who are so busy spinning answers that they occasionally wrap themselves up in their own words.

Now, when we take a look at the San Francisco- Oakland bridge KOMO reporter Tracy Vedder mentions above, we find another concerning scenario, and another case of  officials stating everything is fine, while documentation shows otherwise.

“A builder of the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridgefailed to disclose that a 19-foot section of concrete in the foundation of the span’s signature tower had not hardened before it was tested. By keeping quiet about the problem, the builder prevented further examination or repair.

The Bee found descriptions of the apparent defect in records provided by Caltrans last fall to reassure the public about the overall stability of the suspension segment of the bridge’s eastern span. Experts said the problem, combined with other construction and testing lapses by the California Department of Transportation and its contractors, raises new questions about the structural integrity of the bridge.

Kiewit-FCI-Manson, a joint venture, built the foundation as part of a $177 million contract. It did not provide the problematic 2007 test results until after a Bee investigation in November showed that a Caltrans employee skipped required test preparation for separate checks of the same foundation and fabricated results on other structures”

The story sparked a federal highways authority investigation into the response of Caltrans ( the state transportation authority) and ultimately a series of errors with testing concrete on other bridges and projects was uncovered.

I took a look at the Safeco field lawsuit, which has been going on for years, and to be fair the basis for the case was not based on Kiewits work, but rather steel products that were built by subcontractor for the project that were problematic. The Mariners sued the build team which included Kiewit for damages and liability.

Both Port Mann builders Kiewit and Flatiron worked on the San Francisco-Oakland bridge build detailed above.

More to come next week, but you might want to refresh your memory on the Public Safety Construction Corruption report that I obtained earlier this year on a freedom of information request….