Everything old is new again: CBC investigation raises big questions about Port Mann bridge build.
There is nothing that gets a transportation geeks blood pumping than seeing some excellent investigative work on a project you’ve written about at least a dozen times: the Port Mann bridge project.
Two pieces you should read this morning and I will tell you why in a moment.
- From CBC: ‘Weak oversight’ plagued B.C. megaproject, which insiders believe cost taxpayers millions http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/weak-oversight-plagued-b-c-megaproject-which-insiders-believe-cost-taxpayers-millions-1.4144535
The B.C. government overpaid millions for the Port Mann Bridge project because there was no rigorous verification of invoicing, timing and completion of work, according to the opinion of six sources at two separate auditing firms and hundreds of documents leaked to CBC News.
CBC has also learned that the province ignored some of its own rules around tendering and oversight.
And the man B.C. appointed to be in charge of the project, Gary Webster, also later became a partner with the private firm hired to both manage and audit the project…
2. Also from CBC, the back story: Inside CBC’s Port Mann Bridge investigation: How CBC’s investigative team probed into the megaproject http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/british-columbia/inside-cbc-s-port-mann-bridge-investigation-1.4267767
How do you research a story about the biggest transportation project in B.C. history, when no one attached to the project will speak on the record, and all you have are stacks of jargon-filled documents?
That’s the problem CBC’s Vancouver’s investigative unit faced when someone anonymously leaked hundreds of documents last year.
The spreadsheets, invoices, meeting notes and reviews suggested taxpayers paid needlessly to speed up construction on the Port Mann Bridge and highway project in 2012.
The crown corporation in charge of the bridge, TI Corp, denies any money was spent needlessly.
CBC reached out to several former consultants, engineers, auditors and technologists who worked on the project and six agreed to provide information as long as their names were not revealed. They were worried that speaking publicly would harm their careers.
Excellent read on both and all involved deserve congratulations on a job well done. Stories like this are nearly impossible without insiders coming forth and I hope to see more of them coming forward to report on other projects that bear investigation as well.
It excited me because these stories confirmed what I had reported way back in 2012 ( and since) on the bridges build.
Max Logan, current PR man for the project and TIC, immediately stated to the press this is a fixed price contract, no cost to the province. But is that really the case? I immediately went back to the disc I received after a lengthy FOI process from Transportation Investment Corporation that contained a redacted copy of the Port Mann design build agreement, the interface agreement and over 30 additional schedules and references that is now also available on the project site.
This investigation showing the province pushed to accelerate a project also calls in to questions two other events: the gantry collapse ( an incident Worksafe allowed Kiewit to investigate themselves ) and why the bridge was allowed to open with a design that was deficient and led to the now infamous snow bomb incident?
From the post linked to immediately above:
I’m not an engineer, but when you look at the design of the bridge, with a central support column employing cables as support… those cables are suspended from the central support and do cross over the lanes of traffic below.
Clearly, any ice or snow that accumulates on those cables has to go somewhere – and at that height, speed and any wind force becomes a factor on where that ice is going to fall and how hard it is going to hit anything below.
Unfortunately, it seems we now know it will fall directly onto the lanes below, filled with vehicles and unsuspecting drivers.
More often we see bridges with cables that run parallel to the roadway to the side, which minimizes that falling ice hazard, except in winter weather combined with high winds that can cause ice or snow to be carried sideways back onto the road.
The question becomes then, what – if any – design elements, de-icing or anti-icing technology or methods were employed to prevent this, knowing the cables would cross over traffic below?
When you consider what has been revealed in the CBC stories at the front on this post, all these questions arise again. And more. Other projects I have written about have a common thread of bid and contract ‘irregularities’ ( let’s call them that for now)
It’s time to go back to the future again to a post I wrote in 2012. Because suddenly it is highly relevant again: https://lailayuile.com/2012/06/19/money-and-corruption-are-ruining-the-land/
Here on this site, we 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.
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 who has openly discussed her relationship with a powerful man who remains on the Board of Directors for SNC Lavelin – while the company has ongoing contracts and new bids outstanding.
This is how it works in British Columbia, with the BC Liberals.
This is the, in your face, we do what we want, way of doing business that everyone seems to have no problem with in the provincial government, 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. , and that the industry overall was at a medium to high risk of corruption.
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 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 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.”
This is the report that was released to me ( it became public with this release) but received literally no in-depth coverage of what it contained, as it pertained to British Columbia.
And nothing has changed. It is still too easy to find examples of where to start a corruption inquiry in BC, and why. Quebec’s municipal and public infrastructure suffered the impact of corruption, via shoddy construction, substandard materials and builds. In some areas it has been literally crumbling and falling apart.
Here in BC, we have seen evidence there is more than meets the eye in many projects as well. We have already uncovered shoddy construction here. Some of it on the Port Mann project… some of it on the Sea to Sky highway. Both involved Kiewit.
- a retaining wall on the Port Mann Bridge had to be rebuilt ( after ongoing repairs) because it did not meet provincial building standards http://journalofcommerce.com/Home/News/2011/8/Highway-retaining-wall-being-rebuilt-in-Coquitlam-British-Columbia-JOC046056W/
2. a retaining wall on the sea to sky was rebuilt after it was found the contractor used parts that did not meet ministry standards https://lailayuile.com/2015/04/25/the-contractor-who-built-the-wall-peter-kiewit-and-sons-used-parts-in-the-retaining-wall-that-do-not-meet-ministry-standards/
That was revealed after more than a year of my reporting & photos of the deficiencies in the walls that resulted in ongoing monitoring.
I could go on, but it’s time to wrap this.
It’s 2017 and we have a change in government. I’ve been writing about this for nearly a decade and there are ample indication that something’s not right in BC. Innumerable instances of ‘irregularities’ in public sector and P3 projects from the bids right through construction. We have seen more ‘irregularities’ relating to political contributions and preferred bidders. It’s time to find out what’s going on. Corruption isn’t always big and in your face with dudes in shifty tinted window trucks knocking on doors. It begins in offices. Phone calls. Erasing a bidders name here. Using substandard materials to meet a deadline there. Shelving reports detailing ‘irregularities’ as in the Port Mann CBC story. But rest assured, it’s like an iceberg. What little we see is never the full extent. And big or small, it costs us all in the end.
It’s time for a corruption inquiry here in B.C.