A Project
Oversight Committee is often referred to as a “Cold Eyes Reviewer”. Cold Eyes
denotes impartiality and independence.  They
evaluate project plans, procedures, and safe work practices giving emphasis to
design, management, work quality, project costs and schedule. 
The Muskrat Falls
Oversight Committee has been given a far smaller mandate than the one just
described.  Its role is essentially “reliable
and transparent oversight on the cost and schedule performance of the Project”
and as a “direct and effective communication channel to Cabinet and the general
limited oversight role ought to permit the Committee to perform good work; but,
it hasn’t.  The information it claims to
have analysed comes not from the performance of its own financial or technical
audits.  It is provided by Nalcor. Pete
Soucy, Host of VOCM Back Talk, recently equated the practice with ‘the foxes watching
the foxes’. He is right.

Oversight Committee is comprised of public servants; it contains no Members who
are independent or who possess expertise associated with large scale

The Committee lacks not just an appropriate skill-set; a
history of goodwill from the politicians who control its renderings is also

Each quarterly report is parsed by engineers who lend their
expertise to this Blog.  They have
experience in the execution of large scale projects. Not surprisingly, those
engineers dismiss the Reports with a derision reserved for propaganda.
Two weeks ago, “JM” contributed a Post
facetiously entitled “In Nalcor We Trust”.  He examined some of the key aspects of the most
recent Report and its glaring deficiencies.  Now, another highly qualified professional engineer, with experience in
large scale projects, has reviewed the quarterly Oversight Report.

Like JM, the engineer offers an important piece of advice
for the Oversight Committee:
phrase “Nalcor has advised…” is not an acceptable auditing technique.

What follows is his analysis which has been edited
principally for brevity:

1.    The Oversight Committee noted, on page 8, that
there is “slippage…primarily to progress on the powerhouse and spillway”.  It states the slippage “does not impact key
Project milestones”; that the schedule and first power are secure.   The Committee draws this critical conclusion
not from independent audits but on what Nalcor has told them.

It is interesting that Nalcor uses the Committee to release this
“slippage” information, rather than inform the public directly.  Is it possible
that by having the Committee release the information, Nalcor believes the public
will perceive it coming from an independent source? 

Any reasonable person who reads the Report can discern,
based upon its construction and phraseology, that the Committee has no “boots”
on the ground at Muskrat; it does not have professionals reviewing Nalcor’s
internal reports, or conducting assessments of their management skills, or
that of contractors.

2. The Oversight Committee describes various mitigating measures with respect to
the Astaldi Contract to improve productivity and to regain the schedule.

The Report omits answers fundamental questions:

Are the mitigating measures, additional equipment
and plant materials coming to the site Nalcor’s additional cost?

The ICS “the Dome” was not completed
and was not used as intended. Should we not assume that the efficiencies the
Dome was to have created were supposed to be in excess of $100 million;
otherwise, why would it have been built?  Who pays the cost of this loss of production?

How is this failure not evidence
that Nalcor and Astaldi suffers significant management problems?

The Report states that Nalcor and Astaldi are undertaking
mitigation measures; yet, it adds:  “slippage will continue over the upcoming winter months”. 
How bad must productivity be and how
poor Nalcor’s choice of management that more and better management still won’t
stop work under-performance?  

Does the Committee address the risk
of Nalcor’ mitigating measures not working?  No.

Does it address any other risks
Nalcor is monitoring that might affect project costs and the all-important schedule?

3.  Nalcor suggests the slippages will not affect “the
critical path to first power” even though it is continuing to work during the winter.
Why would Nalcor be working on non-critical
items at a time when the cost of getting the work done is greatest, especially if
the work is not critical to the date for achieving first power?  

4. At some point the word project “acceleration” is going to
be used in the context of bringing the project back on schedule.
 Acceleration implies major additional costs and other problems. The most
obvious ones are congestion of the work space, lowering of overall productivity,
and greater demand for temporary works, like the size of camp quarters.  The
Oversight Committee neglects all those issues. 
It is content only to report Nalcor’s mitigating measures will work.

5. Nalcor is reporting the project is behind schedule -2.7
%.  This is a Nalcor measurement.  There is no audit of this figure
by the Oversight Committee.

6. On the matter of the Astaldi Contract, specifically, we
have no idea how the risk component of the Contract is structured: what do labels
like “fixed-priced” or “unit-price” actually mean in this particular contract?  Of concern is whether Nalcor assumes all or
part of the risk (i.e. labour costs) or whether it is all Astaldi’s.    

The Report states: “The contract format requires
Astaldi to meet certain milestones or pay liquidated damages; this only could
occur if/when a milestone is not achieved.”

The Oversight Committee ought to answer: how many milestones
are contained in the Astaldi contract? What they are? What are the dates on
which each one must be achieved?

The Report should tell us if any of the milestones have
been missed as well as exactly what actions Nalcor is taking to remedy the
problems. Does Astaldi contract have penalties?  Have any of those
penalties been assessed to date?

Given the admission of “slippage”, those questions should be
addressed in the Report.

7. One of the best yardsticks of progress on a megaproject,
like Muskrat, is the rate of placement of concrete:
it is a large, exacting component made all the more
challenging in a Labrador winter.  However,
the weather conditions were known in advance; readiness ought to reflect the
environment where the project is situated. The Oversight Report should answer:

What is the total volume (cubic meters) of concrete specified
in the powerhouse and, separately, in the spillway?

How much concrete has been placed to date vs. the planned
amount?  What are the completion dates for concrete for each of those two
major works?  What is the maximum placement of concrete, per day,
project infrastructure can provide?  

The figures will constitute their own analysis.

Other issues raised by this engineer include the Committee’s
failure to discuss the impact on the schedule of the river diversion originally
planned for early, 2015, the delay in the award of the dam contract, and delays
to commencement of North Spur remediation.

While the Oversight Committee is not mandated to consider
the issue, no oversight is provided with respect to the “quality” of the work
performed. Nalcor gets to assess its own work quality. He wonders how much more
maintenance will be needed on the facility after commissioning, due to quality

There is no consideration of the project’s safety record.

He doubts Nalcor has sent anyone to China competent to
perform the necessary and exacting role of providing dimensional control during
the manufacture of the turbines.

There are other issues, but those are plenty for now.  One point bears repeating:

As the engineer get up to leave, he shakes his head that the
words: “Nalcor has advised…” is repeated in the Report and presented as

He confirms, as did “JM”, there is still no oversight of the
Muskrat Falls project.

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?