Guest Post written by Cabot Martin

On VOCM BackTalk with Pete Soucy yesterday, Nalcor VP Gill
Bennett, the regulator, examined  Gill
Bennett the regulated and pronounced – risk of a North Spur Collapse during
construction ? – no problem! Does not exist !

And repeated that assertion at the end of his call supposedly
to really clinch the argument.
According to Bennett the risk of a North Spur collapse
during construction was , not – acceptable risk; not -low risk; not – negligible
risk;,  but 100% pure –unadulterated  NO RISK.

So go back to sleep people – no problem here.

All accompanied by a pious and disdainful  statement on the superiority of the
engineering way of thinking and the high standards they hold themselves to –
what tripe !

Heard the same crap up at MUN Engineering last fall when
Bennett personally attacked Dr Stig Bernander, a gentle and gentlemanly world
renowned Quick Clay landslide expert and 
far, far more experienced in managing large construction projects than
anyone up at Nalcor, with a
similar “How dare you come over here  and question my engineering code of honor” attack
– when Dr Bernander was merely raising serious valid questions about the safety
of the North Spur.  

Simply put, Engineers are in any event fallible – putting
aside Mr Bennett’s (and Mr Ed Martin’s ) total lack of previous experience on
any kind on major construction projects , and putting aside Nalcor’s documented
track record of incompetence and “imprudence” .

There cannot be “No Risk” of a North Spur Collapse during
construction – not unless Bennett et al have by some mystical process achieved
“God like” status and has changed naturally “unstable” to “stable”.

Acceptable maybe; low maybe; negligible maybe – all are possible
(though unlikely) outcomes from a proper risk assessment for North Spur
collapse during construction – along with Medium and High Risk.
But for a naturally unstable mass like the North Spur containing
Quick Clay – NOT – never- “no risk”!
Related Reading:

The very first engineering study of the
stability of the North Spur was carried out for Brinco in April 1964  by Acres Canadian Bechtel (builders of the
Upper Churchill).The lead investigator was a Norwegian engineer who went on to
found the prestigious Norwegian Geotechnical Institute which specializes in
Quick Clay.

The Acres Canadian Bechtel study warned,
in particular,  that it would not be
feasible to carry out major earthworks on the North Spur.

Nalcor and SNC Lavalin’s friend’s
Fernand Gilbert Construction are now up on the North Spur going at it hammer
and tongs.

Ever since the big 1978 North Spur
slide, NL Hydro (and now Nalcor) have been putting increasing amounts of
perfume on the North Spur pig  – enabled
by SNC Lavalin.

But as it turns out ,the public does not have to take my
word on the risk of North Spur collapse —  or Mr. Bennett’s word either.
Nor should they.

In all civilized countries, the duty and process of
assessing such risks is a public one – entrusted to some branch of their
democratically elected government.

And this is exactly where, Minister Dan Crummell and his
officials are supposed  to earn their pay
under the Water Resources Act for which they are responsible.

Under that Act, which governs Dam Safety and the mucking
around with rivers , the procedure is simple:

 – Nalcor is supposed to
prepare (in a timely fashion)  a proper
detailed Risk Assessment of the Risk of North Spur collapse during construction
(backed up by proper engineering studies) along with the Emergency Preparedness
Plan specifically aimed at handling a North Spur collapse during construction
commensurate with that Risk.

-Nalcor is supposed to (in a timely fashion) submit that North
Spur (under construction) Risk Assessment and specifically related Emergency Preparedness Plan to the Minister for approval.

-Minister Crummell and his officials are then supposed to examine
Nalcor’s Risk Assessment and Emergency Preparedness Plan and approve or
disapprove them with any  appropriate
changes or conditions.

One would think that these steps under the Dam Safety
sections of the Act would be done very carefully, particularly as if any Loss
of Life should subsequently occur from –in this case- a North Spur collapse –
criminal charges may be laid.

All this is missing .

If Nalcor has done such a “No Risk” Risk Assessment of North
Spur collapse during construction let them make it public.

But don’t hold your breath – Nalcor treats the Provincial
government and the public like patsies .

Nalcor, through Gill Bennett , has gone all in – no problem;
no need for an Emergency  Plan; no
effective regulation.

Ah yes;  Who knew What
? When ?

The Devil take the lot of them- but God protect those

Cabot Martin writes from St. John’s


If a Big Mac costs McDonalds $10 to produce and it is sold for $1.50, McDonalds will go out of business. They would not declare a profit!


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.


  1. Mr. C. Martin. There is certainly a risk of failure of the North Spur. Likewise as Mr. Dumeresque notes there is a risk associated with subsea cables on the seabed with encroaching ice-bergs. It might be minor, even negligle. But it is not zero. Nalcor have these numbers.

    The North Spur is also a dam. There is a large body of water which is trapped on the reverse side of the slope, that has been subject to so many stability calculations.

    What I would like to see is standard calculations for a earth filled dam, which calculate Factor of Safety on both overturning and sliding. That FOS may be high, and it may be low, but it is not infinity. It will also be less in a earthquake or other dynamic event (ice jams) when the quick clay is liquidfied. To date the only math that has been released concerns the stability of the slope, and not the fundamental calculations that a dam would have.

    The truth of the matter is that Nalcor can just silence the critics, by releasing the work to the public.

    In the absence of public disclosure, which opens public scrutiny, Mr. Bennets musings are highly patronizing. He should remember the confidence that Theodore Cooper once had.

    • For those non-engineers out there reading this, Theodore Cooper was the engineer in charge of one of Canada's most spectacular engineering disasters (Quebec Bridge) – the aftermath of which led to the regulation of the profession.

  2. Perhaps a complaint to the association governing Professional Engineers is warranted? I am sure this can only be done by a fellow engineer but given the riskto human life posed by a collapse of the North Spur there should be plenty of concerned P.Eng.s out there somewhere.

    John D Pippy

    • Professional engineers are like most "professionals" in that they protect the status quo and protect their profession's public image. Only a P.Eng. may file file a complaint but it would go nowhere. The argument would be over "standard of care" and nothing would become of it other than the blacklisting of the P.Eng. that dared blow the whistle. I am an engineer and I can tell you with certainty that there are very few professional engineers that would dare challenge Nalcor — both out of fear of their current and future jobs and out of deference to authority. If you talk to engineers and trades people, you will find that trades people are far more likely to speak their minds and ask questions than engineers. I figure that in most professions, the percentage of free thinkers (or oppositional professionals) is about 2%. So in this province, there might be 72 engineers who might consider filing a complaint. However, given that engineering consulting contracts from the provincial government are all patronage appointments (the minister gets to pick), that engineer better be retired because the company he owns or work for will never again get a lucrative government contract.

    • Your input is laughable! You have no appreciation for the work or the motivation Cabot Martin has, or the work done out of concern for the people of Goose Bay & Mud Lake! As you wallow in ignorance the North Spur is less stable than it was pre-construction, and as you can see from the comments here there are people with the letters behind their names who do appreciate the danger that exists there. You may want to take those words back some day if god forbid the worst occurs and people are hurt as a result. I suggest you spend a bit of time researching the North Spur, your offhanded bullshit might not flow as freely then! Gilbert Bennett and Ed Martin saying there is no risk, should be your first clue!

    • @Soot Boots, Cabot is highly respected. I and many of my engineering colleagues have read his work on the North Spur and conclude it is very well researched. He is to be commended for speaking out. It is very disappointing that Fortis is afraid to speak out (internally they have very little respect for Nalcor but they do fear retaliation from the provincial government that might adversely affect shareholder value) because they could have derailed the project. The ultimate blame is on corrupt government. As long as corporations and special interests have undue influence over our government and MUN. the public will be abused.

  3. I worked with Acres Canadian Bechtel during the building of dams for the Upper Churchill. My job was soil compaction analysis. As an engineer in training, I worked under the engineer Ken Weir, from California I believe. Of course he sometimes made judgement calls, when a lot of loads of fill of a certain type got dumped, whether the contractor had to remove it if it did not comply. It was often difficult to get the right type of material to fully comply, and there was the question of job schedule. But I was impressed with Ken Weir and that company and things were done right. I was also impressed with the expert on Quick Clay that Martin arranged to have come and speak here. As for Cabot Martin, I had known of him as a lawyer, but never met him, and since he engaged on this issue, I see that he has a science degree also. So his ability to understand these issues are not in doubt. I saw a number of civil engineers at the Quick Clay conference, but not aware any has made a public comment. Pity, as it makes it more difficult for the public to understand the risk, and where one would assume all engineers locally think Gilbert Bennett is beyond question to say there is no risk. I believe Nfld Hydro was or considered themselves to be exempt from the National Building Code, so maybe they are exempt, or figure they are exempt from Risk Safety as to the North Spur. Payback time is 50 years on our light bills, so Gilbert better be right. Winston Adams

  4. Sad but true, I have no doubt. I expect this type of behaviour in the developing world where corruption and fear rule the day. Is it really that bad out there in the engineering community? Maybe a retired, free thinking engineer that retained his or her P.Eng. license will come forward with concerns and lodge a complaint. Until that time we live in the hope that mother nature will remain quiet on the issue.

    John D Pippy, B.Eng (Civil) MUN 1991