It is with no surprise that I see the NDP had some major media releases planned for today, nor is it a coincidence – it’s called trying to squash a bad story that’s come out with bigger news of their own. Already a report has been released on how awesome the economy is doing and the ride-share report is planned for just before noon.
Do not let that distract from a far bigger story that demands both answers and your action. The biggest story by far in BC politics today has been written by Sarah Cox.
In January of this year , West Moberly First Nation filed a civil suit asking for an injunction to halt Site C construction.
That case is about to come to a head with hearings starting July 23rd in Vancouver-more details at the end of this post, however right now let’s look at 2 stunning reports from Sarah Cox. The headline doesn’t come close to indicating how serious the news inside is.
BC Hydro’s troubled Site C dam project, already behind schedule and vastly over-budget, faces an “extremely high probability” of at least a one-year construction delay, according to a leading expert in large hydro dam projects.
Harvey Elwin, an expert witness in a First Nations application for an injunction to halt work on the Peace River dam, makes the statement and other revelations in a lengthy report filed late Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court.
The report’s significant findings contradict recent public assurances from BC Hydro and B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall that the $10.7 billion project is on track, implying that costs are likely to soar further.
Elwin describes the high level of confidentiality surrounding the Site C project as “extraordinary” and says he has never encountered such secrecy during his five decades designing, developing and managing large hydroelectric projects, including during his work on China’s Three Gorges dam, the world’s largest hydro facility.
Premier John Horgan recently said at a media briefing that one-quarter of the project is complete.
However, information outlined in Elwin’s report contradicts that statement and raises questions about a comment from Mungall that BC Hydro is doing a “fantastic job” for British Columbians.
Among the major risks identified in Elwin’s report are “unusual” and “detrimental” delays in building the dam’s south bank drainage tunnel.*
Elwin says it should have been a relatively “straightforward, simple” job, especially compared to two large horseshoe-shaped drainage tunnels that have yet to be built three years into what was supposed to be a nine-year construction schedule.
The report also notes that excavation work on the north bank, where landslides and large tension cracks have slowed progress, is “seriously behind schedule and currently falling behind further.
At the top of Elwin’s list of major risk issues for the Site C project are serious setbacks in the placement of concrete for the dam’s south bank “roller compacted concrete buttress,” a massive structure to support the powerhouse and spillways that will require almost two million cubic metres of a special blend of concrete.
Elwin points out that only about one-third of the concrete planned for 2017 was placed, noting efforts to accelerate the work have failed. At the current rate of progress, the concrete will take nine years to place instead of three, he states.
All indications are that at by end of 2017 BC Hydro and the project’s major civil works contractor “had to be aware” that the lack of progress on that work “was a major project risk,” Elwin notes.
Delays in concrete placement have ripple effects on other critical steps, leading Elwin to conclude that there is an “extremely high probability” of delays in meeting project milestones, pushing back by at least one year the diversion of the Peace River, reservoir filling and the project’s in-service date.
BC Hydro has already disclosed that the planned river diversion, which must be done before the dam structure can be built, is one year behind schedule. But the Crown corporation has stated repeatedly, and as recently as last week, that the project will be completed on time.
Elwin calls the current concrete placement timeline “overly optimistic and not realistically achievable,” noting that sustained rates for producing the concrete (the actual number of cubic metres is redacted from the report) are “unusually high.”
“With having to start up from a seasonal shutdown every spring and accomplish these rates of placement with the temperature restrictions and day and night temperatures for the area in combination with the logistics of these placements, the planned baseline is unrealistic,” the report says.
Elwin notes that the team working on the massive Three Gorges Dam worked for two years to get the Chinese contractor to ramp up and meet its planned peak schedule production of concrete, which set world records for concrete volumes and production rates at 400,000 cubic metres a month.
Other major Site C project risks outlined by Elwin include the river diversion tunnel excavation, main civil works work quality and non-conformance reports.
Information about the seventh major risk is redacted from Elwin’s report.
Among other disclosures, Elwin’s report reveals that only 65 hectares of 2,918 hectares in the future reservoir area have been cleared of trees and other vegetation.
The report notes that a BC Hydro Site C dam “progress report,” made public in March, says that clearing in one area called the “lower reservoir/Moberly drainage” is “substantially complete,” even though a BC Hydro affidavit filed for the First Nations court case reveals that 83 per cent of that area has yet to be cleared.
Included in the internal BC Hydro documents Elwin reviewed under the confidentiality agreement are minutes from the project’s little-known Technical Advisory Board.
The Narwhal previously filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for all documents related to the Site C project technical advisory committee and received back information so redacted it was impossible to extract any relevant information. Even photo captions in the FOI response were redacted.
Minutes from a February 2018 meeting of the technical advisory board reviewed by Elwin describe BC Hydro’s Site C project schedule as “aspirational” and express many of the same concerns outlined by Elwin but not acknowledged by the B.C. government or BC Hydro in recent statements and the carefully-crafted Site C dam “progress” reports available to the public.
In a heavily redacted section of his report, Elwin notes that the emphasis on work quality in one section of a technical advisory board report is “unusual.”
“In my opinion, it is the sign of a large performance problem with the MCW [Major Civil Works] contractor meeting the requirements of the specifications and quality of work. In my experience, when this situation occurs it is nearly always accompanied by serious delays in the work due to quality issues involving rework or stoppages of the work until work can be done in accordance with contract requirements.”
“If the poor quality of work does not get turned around, it will continue to affect the performance and production of work and raise the likelihood of further delay and that the current Project Milestones will not be met.”
Well. Isn’t that something? Because on July 11th when faced with one of those sham updates that BC Hydro’s own documents appear to contradict, Energy minister Michelle Mungall had this to say:
“…in a telephone interview she said she was encouraged Hydro was disclosing problems publicly and acting to fix them.
Is she confident the project can be kept on budget? “Yes.” Have Hydro and the contractors gotten the message on safety? “I think so. Safety is not something we compromise.”
Clueless. But that’s what happens when you have Chris O’Riley right beside you advising you on what to say.
Chris O’Riley is a yes man. He has not been able to reign in the project that has been a disaster since day 1 as I documented on this site for years. Landslides after landslides. Breaches of environment acts. Accidents. And the now infamous tension cracks I first reported on that resulted in mockery online.
Hydro has not been honest. The Hydro documents reviewed by this expert confirm this.
Horgan is not correct when he says and has said it’s 1/4 done. The Hydro documents reviewed by this expert confirm this too…
John, you’re the energy wonk. You know better. Fire whoever is feeding you this misinformation.
Which leads me to Sarah’s second story:
An international hydro dam construction expert describes the high level of confidentiality surrounding B.C.’s Site C hydro project as “extraordinary” and says he has never encountered such secrecy during his five decades designing, developing and managing large hydroelectric projects, including China’s Three Gorges dam.
“I have never seen in 50 years a major public project or program being put in place for its ratepayers by a public agency providing as little information,” Harvey Elwin, a civil engineer who has held major leadership roles with large multinationals working on hydroelectric projects around the world,
Elwin says in the affidavit that he disagrees with BC Hydro’s position that information on the cost, schedule, status and progress of the Site C project must be kept secret from the public.
He notes that it is valid to withhold “narrow categories of commercially sensitive information” for hydro projects, such as information on contract pricing, compensation for assigned staff and internal records of discussion of claims.
But information on the status of Site C project schedules, actual costs versus planned costs, the progress of work by percent complete, and technical board reports should not be commercially sensitive “and have been routinely reported to the public on many other projects being constructed,” Elwin says.
Withholding “virtually all the cost, schedule, and progress information from the public and the public oversight bodies” such as the independent B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) are “far from the norm and contrary to policies I am used to seeing elsewhere for major world class public infrastructure projects,” the affidavit states.
“It is my opinion that it is very unusual and in conflict with the responsibility of project management and public sector officials not to keep their constituents and ratepayers informed specifically on the progress for public sector projects being performed by a public sector agency,” Elwin says in the affidavit.
Hmm. You know why there’s so much secrecy? Because Christy Clark wanted a legacy project (ego, you know) and forced a project on BC Hydro that had no business case. None. The secrecy is to hide failure after failure after failure on this project.
The NDP championed the need for transparency in government for years. The only option here for them now is to come clean and clean house at BC Hydro because this case starts next week and who knows what else is going to come out. And since Weaver seems unwilling to push the NDP hard on anything, I’m not expecting much more than some faux outrage there. ( Hello Andrew, not sure we need a corruption inquiry yet?? Facepalm. )
One thing I do know from being in the courtroom with BC Hydro once before for the Rocky Mountain camp hearing, is that Hydro lawyers will, without a doubt, be trying to have this information hidden forever. They will not want it to be public because it calls into question not only their competence but their motives.
My last big post on Site C before I got sick was in November of last year. https://lailayuile.com/2017/11/13/the-billion-dollar-question-with-only-one-right-answer/
There is still only one right answer for Site C. Stop it. I
I’m not getting my hopes up…I can’t. I actually thought the NDP would do the right thing.I didn’t expect so many who said they were opposed to this dam to just suddenly say ” Oh well” when Horgan surprised them too. But this is as close as anyone is going to get to stopping this train wreck and I hope West Moberly wins this case.
If you are able to, please go and watch the court case where this testimony and report are heard:
Monday July 23rd in Vancouver, at BC Supreme Court go for 9:30 am and check the board for the court room
DO NOT BE LATE. The hearing starts at 10 am and seats are limited. It may be livestreamed as well although parts of the proceedings may be sealed from the public. Fill the halls.
I will update this post here, with any further details.