A critic of the Lower Churchill project has issued a new report online, claiming a key piece of land at the site of the Muskrat Falls hydro project is unstable and may slide into the Churchill River — destroying the multibillion-dollar development.
Cabot Martin calls the North Spur, as the piece of land is known, “the weak link in Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls project.”
His new presentation on the land, now available at muskratinfo.ca, runs 93 pages and includes multiple images of the project site and links to source resources.
It is dated March 9, 2013 and, since then, others have taken up the issue, promoting Martin’s presentation on social media sites like Twitter.
Martin has previously issued public objections to the hydro development, though on different grounds.
There is no disputing the 1000-metre long, 500-metre wide piece of land known as the North Spur is key to the Muskrat Falls hydro project.
The North Spur as essentially a natural dam — jutting out into the Churchill River, forcing the river to narrow.
The spur is risky business if not addressed since, looking below ground, it has more than 100 metres of sand and loose clay in sections, with bedrock not found until about another 150 metres down.
And there have been landslides on the sides of the land spit in the past, as a result of its sand and glacio-marine clay makeup.
The erosion was halted by installing a pump system in the early 1980s, but Martin argues the spur will become more unstable with the changes in water levels that accompany construction of the dam and powerhouse at Muskrat Falls.
He says Nalcor is not yet sure how to firm up the spur.
“Without an acceptable, safe solution to the North Spur instability problem, the whole Muskrat Falls project will have to be cancelled,” his presentation states.
Liberal leader Dwight Ball raised the topic in the House of Assembly Monday.
“Any landslide activity in the vicinity of the dam at Muskrat Falls threatens the structural integrity,” he said.
“So we understand that Nalcor will be conducting additional testing on the North Spur this spring to better understand what potential effects this would have. So I ask the Premier: with such a risk, why was this work not completed before sanctioning?”
Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall responded, noting the spur has been subject to multiple studies in recent years.
“The geotech conditions are certainly very well understood and they were the topic of much discussion during the generation environmental assessment; the plan is deemed to be reliable and to be cost effective,” he said.
“The engineering work will now proceed. The conceptual plan was done; they will now proceed to do the engineering work that is going to be planned this year. Then, they will be executed next year, and the (stabilization) work will be completed prior to impoundment, which will be done later on during the project.”
Indeed, a final feasibility study for the project, published in 1999, stated examination from 1979-80 had shown the site could support a hydro development, “although stabilization measures would be necessary to prevent continued landsliding from breeching the spur under existing conditions.”
It noted no landslides had occurred since the pump system designed to stabilize the land was installed in 1981.
It recommended additional pump wells as backup, alongside other stabilization measures including a rockfill barrier on the upstream face of the spur.
“The stabilization work on the North Spur at Muskrat Falls will be completed prior to impoundment, which will take place in the later years of construction of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric generating facility,” stated a spokeswoman for Nalcor Energy this past week.
The Crown corporation has forecasted its expected dates for project contract calls. Under current plans, a request for proposals for the “stabilization works” — the measures to keep the North Spur from becoming a problem — is to be issued in the fourth quarter of this year.