Update on Site C: Milburn report unable to address safety issues, outside experts called in.
If I were to write a book about how subsequent governments have handled BC Hydro and Site C in particular, I would make it a play on the 50 shades novels and call it ” 50 Shades of Bullshit “. Because that is what the latest revelations into BC Hydro contracts and Site C bring to mind. The bullshit at BC Hydro and site C, just keeps getting deeper and more icky. Before I get into the Milburn report shocker, lets take a look at Sarah Cox’s excellent report in The Narwhal.
Some things never change: SNC Lavalin continues its strong presence in BC infrastructure….
Sarah Cox has outdone herself again and this is a must read:
Documents obtained by The Narwhal show BC Hydro’s former chief engineer and SNC Lavalin are among the recipients of lucrative and previously undisclosed direct-award contracts, fuelling calls for a public inquiry into the behind-schedule and over-budget hydro project
BC Hydro handed out more than $171 million in no-bid Site C dam contracts over an eight-month period ending in July 2020, including to the beleaguered engineering firm SNC Lavalin, The Narwhal has learned.
SNC Lavalin, which in 2013 was banned from World Bank contracts for 10 years due to fraud and corruption overseas, received almost $27 million in three new direct-award Site C dam contracts, according to information The Narwhal received from BC Hydro through a freedom of information (FOI) request.
That’s in addition to $131 million in Site C dam no-bid contracts BC Hydro had already granted SNC Lavalin, which is responsible for designing core components of the over-budget dam on B.C.’s Peace River, the largest publicly funded project in the province’s history.
The FOI response also shows that TE Little Consulting, a firm headed by Tim Little, BC Hydro’s former chief engineer, received $309,000 in December 2019 for Little’s services as the Site C dam “independent engineer.” According to an earlier FOI response, Little, who reports to the B.C. government on all aspects of the dam’s construction, also received a no-bid Site C contract as an “independent engineer” worth $360,000 in December 2018.
Direct award contracts are not new to BC Hydro, and they also use a questionable method of contracting called Early Contractor Involvement, where, in the early stages of many of the RFP, preferred contractors help write the specs…. The idiocy of direct award contracts should be obvious and Cox’s investigation covers that all, but it really concerns me that it continues because a review of BC Hydro done way back in 2011, revealed issues like over-engineering and excessive costs with respect to all this. I wrote about it in 2016, when BC Hydro refused to release the amounts of bids in early site C construction. Its also interesting to see this direct award to SNC Lavalin, in light of the lobbying they did with the new NDP government MLA’S and Meggs in 2018, just as their corruption trial was getting underway back east. I covered that in this piece in 2019, perplexed at how even when governments changed, the way business is done in ministries, did not.
Just how helpful was the Milburn report after all, Bruce?
Horgan finally appeared for a media availability yesterday, mostly to bluff about seeking legal advice about halting interprovincial travel, something Dr. Henry said isn’t going to happen a few hours later in her post Covid report scrum. But thanks to Vaughn Palmer, we did hear some interesting news on the Milburn report, and this is where we get to the 50 shades of bullshit portion of this blog post.
When asked about the report, Horgan surprised everyone by saying that Milburn didn’t have the expertise to assess the safety issues, and two outside experts had been hired to assess the proposed fix by BC Hydro and if it could be completed safely https://vancouversun.com/opinion/vaughn-palmer-dam-experts-hired-to-determine-if-site-c-can-be-completed-safely
Where to start with all this?
Lets start with:
- Premier Horgan assured British Columbians Milburn was highly qualified and experienced for the job when the review was announced, something that was questioned by many at the time.
- A whole lot of time has been wasted here, at great cost to British Columbians. Site C critics,opponents and even a retired BC Hydro engineer have been calling for a truly independent safety review of this dam design and geotechnical conditions for years. Yes, years, and when the Milburn review was announced it was brought up again. Why waste sending in someone who is not independent ( Milburn has a long history under the former BC Liberal government), and who is not an expert in geotechnical issues or earth fill dams, only to still have to call in the people who should have been called years ago?
- The two experts who have been retained are two of the worlds renowned experts and my engineering source is impressed. Where concern remains in his mind, is that they are being retained and will work with, the Site C project assurance board appointed by the BC NDP government… a board whose work at oversight failed, is full of people with a record of supporting the project, still remains highly secretive,( https://thenarwhal.ca/court-documents-offer-revealing-glimpse-of-secretive-site-c-dam-oversight-board/,) and has come under fire for not revealing the extent of the current state of geotech issues for over a year. https://thenarwhal.ca/site-c-dam-geotechnical-problems-bc-government-foi-docs/ On that board was Lori Wanamaker, “who in 2017 challenged the commission’s final findings about the Site C project in a six-page letter to the commission that seemed to suggest the new NDP government was searching for a rationale to continue the project.” She too is a holdover from the Clark government who Horgan has now made his Deputy Minister. What will the parameters be of their work? How in depth will BC Hydro let them get? Will they have full access or will the scope be limited? No one knows, because everything Hydro does has remained secretive even with a new government who used to complain about the lack of transparency. I have respect and faith in the expertise of these new engineers, but I don’t have trust or faith in the board or Hydro to do anythng but protect their interests and asses.
- The fact that Horgan still refuses to halt construction and turbines are being transported to the site, speaks volumes. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/site-c-brings-in-massive-turbine-part-as-politicians-weigh-dam-s-future-1.5872005 It is important to recall that Horgan went from calling Clarks proposed LNG subsidies a sellout and generational giveaway, to making the deal sweeter, increasing subsidies and signing BC into it for at minimum, 20 years once he got into power. While we know LNG Canada will now be using gas to power its operations, instead of electricity, the NDP have been pushing to electrify the LNG industry as a whole from point of extraction on, and gas companies have been lobbying for the past 2 years for increased subsidies, including reduced electricity rates.
- This outside expert review, comes 4 years after it should have been done, alongside the BCUC review when the NDP first came to power. Why they did not insist on a full safety review of the design and location knowing full well how badly things had gone up until that point with geotechnical issues, is a matter for inquiry one day. That it wasn’t done then is one of Horgan’s single biggest mistakes to date as premier. These geotechnical issues are so well known and documented, even by a government commissioned report done decades ago that warned against further development in this area of the valley, due to historical instability. I’ve posted this report in posts going back to 2015, multiple times, which were widely read and shared by NDP MLA’s and staff over the years. The Site C residents have been sending it to politicians for far longer. https://lailayuile.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/weisgarber-report.pdf
One can hope that NDP mla’s and inside supporters with the premiers ear, push hard to do the right thing now. Consider how climate change extremes of weather patterns are impacting BC reservoirs in recent years, causing drastic fluctuations never seen before.
Drought has already caused severe low water levels with southern BC Hydro reservoirs in years past, even the mighty Williston, yet went to the opposite extreme last summer when extreme rainfall and snowmelt combined left the reservoir at almost full pool even after several spills were conducted over July and August https://www.alaskahighwaynews.ca/regional-news/dam-spills-continue-1.24178934 We went from not generating enough electricity and having to buy it, to dumping it. And these extremes involving lack of water or too much, will absolutely continue as climate change continues. I can’t imagine a full pool reservoir behind the site C dam, not in that part of the valley, not with those dangerous gravel seams and shales the dam would be anchored to. Not with the Taylor gas plant and the community of Old Fort downstream. And if they have to spill from Williston they will have to spill from site c too. If there is drought that stops generation at WAC Bennett dam, site c won’t generate either.
It is also prudent to mention BC’s credit rating and how rising debt at BC Hydro directly impacts it. Right now our credit rating is triple AAA and stable, which the NDP government is quick to applaud and rightly so.
What they never mention in their press releases is what the ratings company warn them about.
In the May 2020 rating, the large contingent liability of BC Hydro debt was listed as a challenge for BC. The province guarantees’s all of BC Hydro’s debt, so British Columbians are ultimately on the hook no matter what happens at hydro. One of the factors listed that could lead to a downgrade of credit rating for the province, was a weakening in BC Hydro’s financial metrics beyond Moodys current assumptions. It included an entire section on BC Hydro which is rarely reported on.
Moodys announced a review of BC’s rating last December, but its locked and I’m not going to pay to see it. ( if anyone has access already and can send it on, that would be appreciated. I’m curious to see if it mentions issues at Site C. https://www.moodys.com/credit-ratings/British-Columbia-Province-of-credit-rating-622300
But to use a politicians term, it’s abundantly clear that what happens at BC Hydro with this dam, impacts all of us whether they stop it or not. And that is something they do not mention to British Columbians. Its directly connected to the provinces credit rating and finances…and to how much we pay for Hydro. Moodys forecast looks at rate increases to cover growing debt. Can you afford that?
Time to go and ready the garden for the cold weather forecast next week, so I don’t lose my winter greens. But before I go I want to leave you with two things.
First, is this interview with Horgan from 2015, in which he debates at times with the host of Daybreak North about why we didn’t need site C even with increased consumption. Not much changed in that respect except his agenda to pursue Christy Clarks LNG future.
The second thing I want you to see, is this view shared by Roger Bryenton, P.Eng and energy systems consultant, showing what happens to the shales Site C is being built on, and into, when exposed to air ( when exposed to water they likewise degrade, causing slide as they revert back into a slipclay ) This is a public video so you can still view it even if you do not use Facebook.
Be well, be safe, get outside and get some fresh air and please consider supporting The Narwhal, to support high quality investigative journalism on key issues impacting Canadians. They have done exceptional work on Site C and many other issues and get in depth where most msm do not have the time or budget, and I always find such value in their work. https://thenarwhal.ca/about-us/
Also, read my last site c post here, where I remind readers of the risk to downstream residents should a dam failur4 occur. https://lailayuile.com/2021/01/04/so-much-at-risk-if-site-c-continues-yet-i-still-dont-think-john-horgan-has-the-courage-to-stop-it/
** as usual I will post updates and links in the comments as well as I see them, so check the comments if you are here reading.