Nalcor exec mum on McKenzie River

Derek Montague
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Causeway built across river after “higher than anticipated” water levels

Back in April, anonymous sources told me there were problems with the Muskrat Falls project regarding a bridge across the McKenzie River. Essentially, the sources claimed the bridge was installed too low, and high water levels on the river made the structure useless.

I got in contact with a Nalcor spokesperson to see if there was any truth to my sources’ claims. In an emailed response on April 9, the spokesperson admitted high water levels forced Nalcor to build a temporary causeway across the river.

“When construction activities began at Muskrat Falls in 2012 a temporary bridge was constructed across the McKenzie River, recognizing that a permanent structure would be required later this year as the project progressed. Regular monitoring of water and ice levels undertaken by the project team indicated higher than anticipated levels this winter. As a result, the project team built a temporary causeway and will install a temporary bridge that is elevated above the water levels to ensure site access remains uninterrupted during the spring thaw.”

The admission that a causeway had to be built created follow-up questions I thought should be asked directly to Nalcor’s vice-president of the Lower Churchill project, Gilbert Bennett. What was the cost associated with building this causeway? Why weren’t the high water levels anticipated correctly? Did this cause any significant delay to the Muskrat Falls project? Was this a mistake that could have been prevented?

I’ve had little trouble in the past arranging interviews with Bennett. But, after I emailed the spokesperson to request a one-on-one interview, I began getting stonewalled.

“I thought I addressed all the questions you asked me about the McKenzie River,” was the response. “If you have any additional technical questions maybe I can answer them by email rather than lining up an interview on this? Would that work for you?”

Of course, I didn’t want to email all of my hard-hitting questions. I wanted to talk to Bennett so I could get direct and, presumably, honest answers. Perhaps having to build a causeway was no big deal and didn’t have a big impact on the project. But until I could talk to the man responsible for oversight of the project, I’d have no way of knowing.

Weeks after the first email exchange, I just so happened to run into Bennett at Tim Hortons in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I told him that I’d like to talk to him regarding the bridge on the McKenzie River. He told me to give one of his spokespersons a call. At the time I thought he was telling me to call the spokesperson so we could arrange a date and time for an interview.

This time I spoke with a different spokesperson, but it resulted in a similar email exchange from May 12-15, where I was denied a chance to ask Bennett anything directly.

“I understood that (the previous spokesperson) had already provided information to you regarding the McKenzie River, is there additional or specific information that you're looking for?”

After explaining that I would like to talk to Bennett, so I could have an opportunity to ask proper follow-up questions, I received one last email stating that there was no time in “Gilbert’s calendar” for this interview.

“I haven't been able to schedule time in Gilbert's calendar for this, but am more than happy to track down the answers to whatever questions you have. If you want to send me your questions, ask away, I'll do my best to get the information from the team for you.”

I’ve never had trouble in the past arranging, at the very least, a telephone interview with Bennett. So, I find it odd that two different Nalcor spokespeople were unable to get one arranged for me on this specific issue.

It begs the question: is there something Bennett doesn’t want to discuss about the bridge spanning the McKenzie River?

— Derek Montague is a reporter/photographer at The Labradorian. He can be reached at the following: derek.montague@thelabradorian.ca

Organizations: Tim Hortons, The Labradorian

Geographic location: McKenzie River, Happy Valley, Goose Bay

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  • Marina Biasutti-Brown
    June 03, 2014 - 19:22

    Derek I would add a question about the impact on fish habitat and migration that this causeway may have had, and whether or not it went through the proper approvals (DFO, Water Resources).