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?


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

    1. Just asking questions that need to be asked. There is no question improvements were needed to this highway,but at the cost the province paid… and continues to pay to the private partner,did taxpayers get their moneys worth? It’s a bit early for so much repair to be going on with this highway.

      I’ll have another very interesting update on yet another, totally unrelated story early next week where taxpayers definitely didn’t get their moneys worth… and it raises some very interesting questions about the friends of our current government.


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

    Hmmmm, I’ve seen this process used already by the BC Liberals: The process of building a case against the need to FIRE 8 health research employees is now being investigated by the same people that fired them


    1. Not only Mt. Polley….no government offices or agencies have any records of inspections done for dam construction, bathtub drain plug installation, or penstock welding for the lake draining IPP hydro project at Tyson Creek on the Sunshine Coast.

      Yes, it is a dam….not a weir….at a very high elevation to boot.
      The pressure in the penstocks is over 1000psi. The same owners have received EAO approval to go ahead with another “drain the alpine lake” project on nearby Ramona Creek.

      That project is now being purchased by BluEarth Renewables out of Calgary, with the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan as a major investor.

      We are being told to run along and not bother these important out of province beneficiaries of our increased hydro rates…..nevermind Tyson Lake already sloughed off into Narrows Inlet once already. Who signed off on that design? Maybe these reports and “sign-offs” are in a file cabinet somewhere. Maybe.
      Same for Mt. Polley.
      Same for Sea-to-Sky.
      Good thing we have super qualified people like Bennett and Polak to look after our super natural BC.


      1. Any report will be in the BC Liberal 10 year plus , archive to be ,pile of blank, that is being withheld from public access.
        mushroom management


  2. I may be turning into a real “old cynic” but I do not trust the BC Lie-beral government in anything – least of all where they try to pass the buck to others (Kiewit Construction).
    This government spouts off at the mouth, makes absurd statements and then when responsibility is to be assumed, scatter like rats running from a fire.
    The government has no integrity at all – as shown so often by both Gordon “Pinocchio” Campbell as well as Christy Clark – who is paid to be in the legislature but has decided that paid holidays are now the norm !
    I guess we get what we ask for – bribed by promises and get screwed day and night.
    Folks, we have got to vote idiotic these Barstids out of office.
    Sorry, but I just see red these days when I read “BC Liberals”. I voted for someone else and basically got these stupid fools instead.
    Sheesh !!!!!


  3. well we can sit back and wait until there is some sort of slide and a few dozen citizens get killed. It will all be ok not to worry. of course it will be fun when the law suits all use information from your blog to win.

    It is important to note the dept. doesn’t care about the condition of the highways or how many people could be killed. This government has permitted this province to have the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for over 10 yrs, has dirty hospitals–87 died in 2 1/2 yrs in Burnaby General from il difiicle, does little to nothing to improve the lives of the mentally ill, leaves disabled people living on pensions which deprive them of dignity and any chance to live at a decent standard. A chance that the highway may have a slide, not an issue for the b.c. lieberals. the B.C. Lieberals don’t care if we live or die, just don’t do it on their time or dime.


    1. The province assured the public in May that the highway is completely safe. But the question is, did we get a product that is going to last as long as it should or is it going to require costly maintenance and repairs earlier in its life than it should be? It’s only about 5 years old.


  4. One wonders how Kweit will try and spin this if the proverbial “doo doo hits the fan” and there is a blow out.
    Lawyers will be salivating for years over the eventual payouts.


      1. The long term impact of rushed construction has been showing for a long time in Montreal…

        A trip down memory lane to the required replacement of the failed expansion joints on the William R Bennett bridge that needed replacement after about only 14 months… detailed here, half way through and some of the person involved.

        Performance bonuses are horrific in construction if the project is on a timeline that isn’t realistic and the project is at risk of falling behind. Corners can be cut. The amount of the bonus will usually offset any warranty replacement work needed down the road so….. The builder still comes out ahead and the government gets to say that the repairs aren’t on their dime.


        1. Laila , I see from your Tercon link that several of the engineers “moved on to SNC Lavalin…”.
          The company that “has no shame”……. 😉


  5. Not to take anything away from your attention to Kiewit, but who was the structural and civil engineer on those walls? Both have a part tio play in the design, inspection and sign-off process. I’m not sure how Kiewit gets to sign off on their own work unless someone with an engineer'[s stamp is hired to do that for them, which makes the Kiewit contract a 30-year performance contract – in other words, that wall will only work for as long as the P-3 contract is active – if it falls down the day after the contract expires….well too bad.

    Anyway, sure would be curious.


    1. I absolutely agree Zalm and did ask the ministry which MOTH engineer has signed off on this. FOI’s involve third party consultation etc on the release of some documents. The maintenance contract on this is separate from the main contract as is common with all projects of this magnitude.

      Seriously, did we get value for this highways cost? Traffic counters and sensors that don’t work – no word on whether those were ever fixed follow the Auditor Generals report. Or was it rushed through in time for 2010 and lets just deal with all the issues after.


      1. with NGR operating in Whistler and everyone loves the resort…. the highway upgrades were bought off by the contractor buying govt favours.. is that too strong/ how about “majorly influencing the Libs with a money deal. Are we surprised… NOT! Stadium ROOF goes over budget by 150% while a complete new arena is being built in Edmonton for about 250 Mill…. not enough? How about a completely DISFUNCTIONAL bridge that went a BILLION over budget…


  6. […] 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.  […]


  7. […] 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.… […]


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