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.

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“The art of being happy,lies in the power of extracting happiness from common things…” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

It was the kind of summer day dreams are made of… no schedules,no destination in mind,just loading up a picnic and taking off with no expectations.

The highway led us towards Squamish, a natural and instinctual response to the calling of the mountains and the sea, the road not too crowded but still full of people looking far more stressed out than they should be for a long weekend in summer.

Until we came up behind a large head of a beast being towed on a trailer…

2015-08-02 001Debate ensued… was it a bear? Or a cougar? And who made this and what was it for?

As we passed by, the driver who had obviously seen the camera out the window  yelled: “Hope you got a good shot!”,smiled,waved and everyone laughed. (Passenger taken photo)

How often do you see something like that going down the road?

We ended up seeing this parked outside the grounds of the Loggers Sport Show in Squamish, but the driver was no where in sight so the mystery remains- unless someone out there can share some insight!

Finding every inch of Porteau Cove covered in people soaking in the sun, we simply moved onto finding something else fun to do – although, I did have a really great conversation with a charming senior who was re-visiting the area after a long absence. I won’t forget the look on her face as she looked out over the water and mountains, arms open to embrace the sun and sea air, as she exclaimed: “There just aren’t words good enough to describe how beautiful this really is.”

Heading into town, we discovered plenty of fun at this challenging, 18 hole mini-golf we discovered at an RV park ! (I thought I knew everything about Squamish since we hang out there enough, but we missed this!)

Shaded for the most part, and with that lovely wind coming in off Howe Sound, old time music playing over the speakers sometimes lead to dancing between the holes. Pink balls and purple clubs? All the more fun!

Rolling with it and being open to whatever happens or doesn’t happen, makes life so much more enjoyable. And it was later on the way home that the best part of the day arrived.

Stopping to stretch our legs and enjoy the breathtaking view, we saw a car parked in the bus zone with its doors open,the driver sitting on a blanket in front with a variety of glitter, paints and glue in front of him. He was just sitting and humming, with a bag of Mcdonalds beside him,chilling out at the viewpoint.

But like a siren calls to sailors on the sea, the car was calling too…. loudly… to all visitors walking by, although none stopped despite being clearly curious.

Walking over,my jaw dropped in reaction to the sight before my eyes – I can honestly say I’ve never seen a car like this before! Click on the first photo to scroll through in full screen,so you can really get the essence of this rolling artwork

Every single space inside this car, including the truck and engine, is covered and lovingly adorned. Meticulously covered in paint designs and dots, glitter, glued on toys, photos of the owner, photos of his heroes.

Small toys, beads and Swarovski crystals  adorn the steering wheel and the sun sparkled off the surfaces not unlike a sun-catcher hanging in your kitchen window, leaving prisms of colour dappling everything in sight.

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And we talked.

Buddy Theodore Bear aka Buddy Bear aka Buddy ‘Teddy’ Bear  is clearly a man living his life on his own terms and quite happy to continue doing so. His skin is burnished golden brown like leather, no shoes covered the worn and dirty soles of his feet and the deep smile lines and wrinkles at the corner of his eyes revealed he likely smiles heartily more often than not.

Buddy shared a lot of stories as he shared his love for his car with us,turning on the interior LED track lights. Stories of eating nothing but McDonalds for the last six years and trying to get approved to raise money for Ronald Mcdonalds house and charity. Of being a groomsman at one of his three ex-wives re-marriage and of being married three times. Of taking time and hanging out and just talking to people,which he clearly loves to do.

Now I don’t know anything about Buddy other than what came up in these moments – he’s just a fellow and his car  we saw sitting at a rest stop on the side of the Sea to Sky highway – nor do I even know if all his stories are real….but I do know this.

He loves his car.

And while many would call this labour of love crazy or nuts or downright stupid…it makes him happy. And it makes other people happy too because it’s impossible not to smile when you see this thing. It made me smile. Talking to him, having him share a bit of his life with us was a gift. And that’s all that matters.

They say that happiness is something so little understood, that it’s often mistaken for insanity. And there is more than a little truth in that I think. I think Buddy has a lot more stories waiting for people to listen to. And I hope to run into him again sometime to hear some more.

Oh and the stuffy he is holding?  Her name is Emily. Emily… Car(r). She’s kind of like his artistic mascot for the car… She goes everywhere with him.

There were a lot of people at that rest-stop, gawking at his car, clearly wanting to see it better but holding back for whatever reason. And if one of them was you,I’m really sorry you missed a chance to have a little conversation with someone outside your box who had so much happiness to share.

If you ever end up reading this Buddy, thanks for spending some time talking and sharing your passion. It was, without a doubt, a highlight of our day. :)

The worlds an amazing place, full of interesting people and I can’t help but be reminded of a quote I saw plastered on someones facebook wall once from Greys Anatomy:

” So stop for a second.

Enjoy the beauty. Feel the magic.
Drink it in. Cause it won’t last forever.
The romance will fade. Things will happen.
People will change. Love will die.

But, maybe not today. “

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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.

Kiewit-General “committed willful and serious safety violations” in Washington state accident, fined $150,000

I noticed some interesting and heavy activity yesterday on my blog, from a US source using Level 3 Communications out of Maryland, U.S. – a company that interestingly enough, was spun off from Kiewit Diversified Group, a subsidiary of Peter Kiewit and Sons. The interest was very specifically focused on the posts I’ve written that involve or feature Kiewits work in BC, and most recently on the issues with the retaining walls along the Sea to Sky Highway. 

This prompted a bit of digging around since often traffic like that can lead to a story or a related story. And sure enough,something popped up.

“The contractor building a new 520 floating bridge is accused of willfully putting the lives of workers in danger by ignoring safety warnings related to cranes being used on the project.

Kiewit-General will receive a fine of more than $150,000 for willful and serious safety violations stemming from an accident at the site in Aberdeen where pontoons for the floating bridge are being constructed, according to a source with knowledge of the incident, which led to an investigation by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

On June 21, 2014, a 13,000-pound concrete counterweight being lifted off a construction crane fell to the ground, narrowly missing two workers. Five workers were on the crane at the time, and could have been seriously injured or killed if the crane had collapsed, according to the source.

KIRO Radio has viewed video of the incident, during which the man filming seems to have anticipated an accident of some kind.

“And that’s why I was filming,” he said.

The video was sent to L & I, which led to an investigation.

State inspectors found that a steel hook attached to the top of the counterweight, which is used to lift it, broke free from the concrete and steel frame it was cast in.

The accident led to serious revelations about Kiewit, including accusations that the company knew for nearly 10 years that the steel hooks could be faulty, but failed to take action.

The hook in question, called a lifting eye, was the subject of a manufacturer’s bulletin in 2005 and again in 2011. The bulletin indicated that the steel lifting eyes could fail and should be inspected. If irregularities were found, the manufacturer provided a set of guidelines that companies should follow to fix the lifting eyes.

Kiewit, before it joined with General on the 520 bridge project, owned several tower cranes that used the questionable lifting eyes. Instead of repairing the lifting eyes as the manufacturer recommended, Kiewit attempted its own repairs or, in some cases, didn’t attempt any repairs, the L & I investigation found, according to the source.

The source said Kiewit had, on multiple occasions, disassembled and then re-erected tower cranes in Washington state without replacing potentially faulty lifting eyes when they had the chance.

As a result, Kiewit-General, as a joint venture, will receive willful violations for failing to follow recommendations from the crane equipment manufacturer, failing to address the hazard, and putting employees in direct danger of a tower crane collapse. The company also received serious violations for using a worker that wasn’t qualified to oversee crane disassembly at the Aberdeen site, and for allowing that worker to develop procedures they were not qualified to develop.”


Read the rest of this story,listen to audio and video features showing footage of the crane accident HERE:

This particular bridge project has been plagued with issues, which I covered here after Dave White of News1130 broke the story in BC- this is a *must read* refresher:

Of course, all this talk about bridges,crane collapses and safety violations brought me back to the very big crane mishap that happened on the Port Mann Bridge during construction.

I did a bit of research but couldn’t find any reports detailing the results of the Worksafe BC investigation into that accident, and after going through the archives on the Worksafe BC newsroom site, I called their media room to ask what the findings were or if they were released.

I was told they were not available and that I would have to file an FOI ( Freedom of Information request) to find out. I asked if it were possible to simply find out if any fines or infractions were issued without details, and again, told to file an FOI. (This has already been done by a source and the results will be shared. )

One would think the results of a WorkSafe BC investigation into a very public accident on a public project would not be a private or personal matter.  It is possible to report the findings without naming individuals.

***Update 2pm Dec 19/2014 :

From our dear friend NVG ( virtual fist bump here)  in the comments below, a link to a story from The Sun where it mentions the reason Worksafe BC might not even have anything to FOI – they allowed Kiewit/Flatiron to do their own investigaton. Shocking excerpt :

“What made the gantry collapse? Al Johnson, Work-SafeBC’s regional director in charge of regulating construction, said the two companies that designed and built the bridge, Kiewit and Flatiron, were best able to answer that question.

“Sometimes we do our own investigation, but in this particular incident our officers felt that (the companies) had the engineering expertise – and they brought engineers in that knew specifically about the truss,” Johnson said. “So we were satisfied that they had the right engineers on the job to evaluate what occurred, what went wrong, and how to prevent that … from happening again.”

WorkSafeBC met with the companies on Nov. 7 after their investigation was finished.

“They were using the truss in what they call an ‘unconventional’ way,” Johnson said. “In this cantilevered position, the truss is sitting on two short front legs and two larger back legs.”

When the 90-tonne segment was moved out to the end of the cantilever, the front supporting legs began to bend.

“It would be sort of like if you had a table with very simple legs, like a card table, and you had short legs on one side and longer legs on the other side, and you started to push it forward,” Johnson said. “The front legs collapsed.

“Their engineering design hadn’t given consideration to all the different factors of using it that way.”

Kiewit has a long history of being one of the contractors favoured by the BC Liberal government, along with SNC Lavalin and Macquarie, but one with a questionable track record.

Their safety record was detailed at length in this excellent piece by Tom Sandborn in the Tyee last year:

The ministry of Transportation has yet to respond to the questions asked in this post:


** In February 2014, BIV noted that Kiewit/Flatiron general partnership had filed suit with regards to the segment dropped into the river during the Port Mann bridge incident, alleging the defendents ” failed to “specify and deal with the risk that the main truss might slide during span-by-span erection of segments on a slope.”


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.

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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.

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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:

Just an opinion from a “retired Businessman who lives in the Greater Victoria Region.”

Gwyn Morgan, a “retired Businessman who lives in the Greater Victoria Region.”, penned an article in the Alberni Valley News yesterday.

Here is an excerpt:

We also need to focus on balancing the provincial budget, rather than taking money away from social programs to fund rising interest costs. Forty years of experience in business has taught me that too much debt is crippling. It scares me that the NDP has rolled out billions of dollars in new spending during this campaign, and their “every dollar is accounted for” rhetoric just isn’t credible because their anti-development attitude will reduce revenue at the same time as spending rises.

There is truth to the adage, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The NDP came to power in 1991 and governed the rest of that decade. Investment dried up and economic growth trailed the rest of Canada. A low point came when the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce thanked the B.C. government for driving growth investment in Alberta.  Glenn Clark’s 1996-1999 tenure was arguably the most disastrous for B.C. and with Adrian Dix, Premier Clark’s former Chief of staff leading the province, I’d be very worried about history repeating itself.

It took many years for the Liberals to repair the damage.  During their time in government, North America suffered through a major recession and yet we now have a triple-A credit rating, higher than the U.S. government, allowing B.C. taxpayers the lowest possible interest rates.

Have the Liberals done everything right? Certainly not. The introduction of the HST by the Campbell government was badly handled. There have been other gaffes and ill thought out policies. And while there is a natural inclination for people to vote to change long governing parties, it’s important not to let the NDP sleepwalk to victory without thinking about which party is likely to create jobs and not burden today’s young people with a mountain of debt.

Well how wonderful of Mr. Gwyn Morgan, “retired businessman”, to share his concern for BC with the lovely people of the Alberni Valley and elsewhere, thank you to the internet. So altruistic.

It’s too bad that the editor didn’t identify Mr. Morgan as the soon to be former chair of the Board of SNC Lavalin – who has many existing and new contracts with the BC government.

Or point out that Gwyn Morgan was the founder and former president of EnCana, who has given extensively to the BC Liberals and makes a lot of money in BC.

Or that he himself supported Christy Clark financially in her leadership campaign…or that Gwyn Morgan even acted as a transition advisor to Christy Clark when she became premier of BC.

That might have put a bit of a different spin on his concern, don’t you think? In fact, it is a bit of a fracking joke if you ask me…

A must read. “Are Tax Havens robbing the government of P3 revenue?”

There are a couple of people who I really admire and follow with regards to their work on  P3’s in the province, among other items of concern. One is Erik Andersen , who in the embedded link talks about the potential for BC reaching our own fiscal cliff, and Keith Reynolds, who has written more about P3 projects than anyone else.

For newer readers, Public-private partnerships are a method of financing and building a project whereby a private corporation – usually a team of them – is selected to build a government project, and  also finances it all up front.

The government then pays that private partner back over a long period of time, along with very lucrative payments and interest, and that make P3’s  a very popular investment vehicle for many investment funds – the Sea to Sky highway project has been sold once already  to a new investor :

While the Liberal government has greatly endorsed the use of this manner of financing and building many projects, in particular highways and bridges, critics including myself have great concern over the amount of debt that it obligates the province to re-pay. The province doesnt actually consider it debt though, and it is not reported as debt, but rather ” contractual obligations” .   I’ve compared it to your mortgage, which is also a contractual obligation… but if you tried to tell a credit card company it wasnt debt, they would laugh at you.

It is debt, under another name, and those P3 payments over time, over multiple projects, have nearly bankrupted other countries and many countries have now stopped using this method because of the burden it places on the government over time, in paying back those debts.

Now Keith Reynolds has brought forth another strong concern – the  new owners of two P3 projects in BC are companies that are located in countries that are tax havens… and this may have a strong impact on the amount of taxes they should be paying to our province.

Here is an excerpt:

“If P3 infrastructure is operated by the government or its agencies, then the operator does not pay taxes to the federal or provincial governments.  But a private sector operator does pay taxes and these taxes are factored into the equation that decides whether or not to use a P3.

But what happens if the tax revenue predicted from the P3 project doesn’t materialize? That means the province does not get the expected revenue, which is a big deal in cash strapped British Columbia. It also means that the comparison used to decide whether to use a P3 to do the project publicly was biased against public operation because of overly optimistic revenue expectations from the P3.

One of the ways companies cut their taxes is by moving their headquarters to tax havens.  Instead of claiming their profits in the country where they actually deliver services profits are claimed in the tax haven and taxes are paid at much lower rates.

Here in British Columbia there is complete silence on the issue from both the government and the media. The Ministry of Finance in response to a Freedom of Information request asking about the impact of tax havens and P3s said “although a thorough search was conducted, no responsive records were located. Your file is now closed.”

In a nutshell, the public private partnerships are already creating a sizable debt load in this province and when projects are flipped, losing valuable tax revenue to offset that debt is a huge liability.

But I’m pretty sure the government doesn’t want you to know, or understand any of it …. and that’s why you have to read the full post here

I’m more than willing to answer any questions you have, as I am sure Keith is, to help you understand why this is such an important issue for the financial future of our province.

Then, go and read the top post of 2012 on this site:

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)

Why is the BC government paying over $63 million dollars a year to the private partners of the Sea to Sky highway?

Could it be, that just might have something to do with the cost of the shadow tolls on the highway for the year ending March 31st, 2011?   Hmmm?

Can the Liberals answer that question for us please?

My very good friend at Blog Borg Collective, who is one of the best data miners I have met and worked with in my entire career, discovered the handsome payout to the Sea to Sky Highway Investment limited partnership in the provinces Open Information system,and wow, did that ever get my attention.

 Even more so because that P3 deal has already been flipped by one of the partners who clearly made everything invested and more, thanks to everyone driving that highway….

As he states in this fabulous blog post :

“…Colin Hansen constantly stood up in the Legislature and crowed about how the Sea to Sky Highway was only going to cost taxpayers $600 million, and then in this Fiscal Year Ended March 31, 2011 the public gets nailed with a $63 MILLION dollar bill, AND we will get nailed $63 Million dollars every year, for the next Twenty-Five years, until the total cost ……


 Laila Yuile last year gave us the heads up on the Shadow Toll on the Sea to Sky Highway. Now we know its costing us over $63 million per year. The Road Counters embedded in the road are not visible to British Columbians, but every other highway is……. and now we know why

Well I think you can do the math on that. And considering the William R. Bennett Bridge and the Kicking Horse pass have the same shadow toll deals on the financing with their private partners… you decide if the taxpayers achieved value for cost.

As BC Mary would say: ” Move along folks, nothing to see here, no, nothing at all..”

Hats off to NVG for this stunning find! Brava.

(  if you want to read more about those shadow tolls, head on up to the Best Of page above and scroll down to read the entire series, or click on the link above to read Mark Humes take on the entire debacle. )