Town, Nalcor still not agreeing to route for shipping camp modules for Muskrat Falls project
The new Happy Valley-Goose Bay Town Council is still at odds with Nalcor over the issue of camp modules being transported to the Muskrat Falls work site.
On Oct. 5, Nalcor began transporting 30 modules from the dock at Terrington Basin, through the centre of town via Hamilton River Road and onto the Trans Labrador Highway.
When Mayor Jamie Snook was made aware of the modules arriving at the dock, he immediately requested the oversized loads be trucked via Goose River Road, so that they wouldn’t go through he town. Snook was concerned the oversized loads would increase safety risks on Hamilton River Road, which is the busiest road in town.
“Our main concern is safety and we provided Nalcor with an alternative route to get through the municipality,” says Snook.
“We asked them to use the Goose River Road network and come out on the Trans Labrador Highway that way, but they would prefer to use, obviously, Hamilton River Road.”
Nalcor’s Vice President of the Lower Churchill Project, Gilbert Bennett, however, insists that the Goose River Road isn’t safe for transporting the 64ft long and 14.6 ft wide modules.
“(Goose River Road) was discussed to a pretty good length during the environmental assessment,” says Bennett. “(It) wasn’t seen as a step that was necessary. From our perspective, that road is not in very good condition, the road is certainly not suitable to carry large loads.
“Hamilton River Road and the Trans Labrador Highway are designed for this kind of activity…we view this as an entirely safe operation.”
According to Snook, representatives from the municipality and Nalcor began discussions the same morning the modules arrived at the dock. It was clear the two sides didn’t see eye-to-eye on what route should be used for transporting the modules.
The mayor was further annoyed when, according to Snook, the modules were moved later that evening, without notifying any Town officials or councilors.
“We were completely shocked, to be honest,” says Snook. “We started getting texts from the public, who were taking pictures of them as they made their way through Spruce Park area. And that’s how we found out about it.”
According to information provided by Nalcor, the modules were shipped on October 5-7, as well as the 9th and 10th.
Bennett insists that, despite the Town’s concerns, the contractor made every safety precaution, before moving the modules.
He claims all vehicles were equipped with flashing lights, flags, oversized load signs, and that all the rigs had escort vehicles in the front and rear.
On top of that, Bennett also claims that no modules were transported after daylight hours, nor were they moved during “peak” traffic periods within the community.
“The whole question of safety was first and foremost in our mind…we had representatives onsite…was satisfied that the appropriate precautions were put in place and that the work was done safely,” says Bennett.
According to Snook, Nalcor security refused Town employees from testing the water at the basin, while the modules were at the dock. Snook says that the water is supposed to be tested every single day.
“The Town does have to check water safety every day, 365 days a year and this is one of the issues that sparked this dispute,” says Snook.
“That should never have happened and so, we do now have a day, down at that location, where the water wasn’t checked. If anything had happened, it would have been a serious issue.”
Bennett claims the water testing issue could have been resolved if Nalcor officials in Happy-Valley Goose Bay were notified of the situation. That way, according to Bennett, a time could have been arranged for Town workers to test the water safely.
“That truly is unfortunate because if somebody had raised the question…if we had been appraised of that situation…(it) could have been resolved in a matter of minutes, if the request been made,” says Bennett.
Safety wasn’t the only issue that caused disputes between Town Council and Nalcor. Snook claims that Nalcor didn’t follow proper regulations when hauling the oversized loads, because they didn’t have permission from the municipality to haul the modules through town.
But Bennett disagrees. Bennett points to the fact that, despite going through the centre of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Hamilton River road is considered a provincial highway.
“Hamilton River Road and the Trans Labrador Highway fall within the jurisdiction of the province and our permit requires us to get all necessary approvals,” said Bennett.
“In the case of the Town, they have jurisdiction over municipal roads. But these two roads in question are provincial roads…that’s why we talked to the highway enforcement division with the province.”
Minister weighs in
Newly appointed Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath says he understands the safety concerns of the Town Council, but agrees with Bennett over the issue of jurisdiction.
“Nalcor is correct in saying that, when it comes to jurisdiction, the province has (the jurisdiction) and access to both Hamilton River Road and the Trans Labrador Highway…so any permitting certainly has to come through the province for that,” says McGrath.
Furthermore, McGrath says he’s confident that Nalcor can move all oversized loads, like camp modules, safely to Muskrat Falls.
“No, I certainly don’t (have safety concerns), but I can appreciate where the town council’s coming from,” says McGrath. “In Labrador West, (when I was on Council), we were going through similar scenario when IOC was doing their expansion and they were bringing modules in.
“But when we sat with the company and realized that every safety precaution was taking place, we felt very secure…and there were no safety concerns whatsoever.”
The stand off between Nalcor and Town Council probably won’t be going away anytime soon. A new shipment of modules is expected later this month. Bennett says there is no plan to use a different route for future shipments.
“We’re strongly of the view that pretty well any of the material can be moved over the road and into the site in a safe manner,” says Bennett.
Snook, meanwhile, has accused Nalcor representatives of being dismissive of Town safety concerns and only caring about the technical and legal aspects of moving their equipment.
“I think it was very disappointing and they were dismissive and they didn’t take our concerns into account whatsoever, they completely disregarded it,” says Snook.
According to Nick McGrath, there will be many large shipments going through Happy Valley-Goose Bay and into Muskrat Falls over the next year and a half. And he, like Bennett, doesn’t view Goose River Road as a safe route for oversized loads.
“I actually sent my senior officials in Happy Valley-Goose to go have a look at that road…and for the size of the modules…the Goose River Road is not a safe access road for that size of a unit,” says McGrath.
If the loads do have to be transported through Hamilton River Road, it may only cause more tension between the new Town Council and Nalcor, as both sides still disagree on how to safely transport the material.
On top of that, during the first public meeting after the municipal election, the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Town Council agreed to withdraw its participation from the Lower Churchill Community Liaison Committee. Bennett says he wishes the Council had stayed on the committee, so it could be used as a tool for the council to voce their concerns about the Muskrat Falls project.
“It’s unfortunate that Town Council has decided not to participate in our community liaison committee because that is a vehicle we have found to be very effective at bringing people together from the municipalities.
“We’ve made several efforts to engage with council and those offers have not been accepted. So I do think we need to find a way to improve the level of dialogue.”