Guest Post Written by Cabot Martin

James L Gordon, like
many hydro engineers all across Canada, is fascinated by the ins and outs of the
Muskrat Falls project.

His latest observations
to me focus on the four reports issued to date by the Oversight Committee on
Nalcor’s performance as compared to their Project Schedule.

To help us understand
this issue he has prepared the chart below. The lines show Nalcor’s planned
schedule (and completion date) as compared to the actual schedule (and
completion date) which will probably be achieved based on these reports.

It shows, as expected,
slower progress in the 5 winter months than in the 7 summer months.

Although he terms this
analysis very preliminary, it’s certainly the best analysis we have in the
public domain. He notes that the progress is calculated at 0.73% per month for
the 5 winter months, and 1.66% per month for the 7 summer months.

This indicates a winter
progress at 44% of the summer rate, about what can be expected under the winter
conditions in Labrador near Goose Bay.

As he says, if these
rates of progress are applied to the remaining work, the project completion
date will be April 2020 as compared to the planned project completion date of
December 2017, or about 27 months behind schedule!

Hopefully, this is the worst case scenario.

As the yellow line on the graph shows, it would take a 20% increase in
the project production rate to achieve a December 2018 completion date.

foregoing is from Jim Gordon himself – allow me to add a few more points.

Mr. Gordon’s
analysis is consistent with the fact that the critical “River Diversion”
operation due to be completed by May 2015 has been pushed out to October 2016 –
a delay of 18 months.
The river
diversion operation involves the closing of the present channel of the Lower
Churchill River at the Lower Muskrat Falls and the diversion of the river
through a completed and fully operational Spillway complex.

Until the
river is diverted through the completed spillway in this manner, work cannot be
started at all on the North concrete dam that is supposed to stretch between
the powerhouse/spillway and Spirit Mountain – and that’s the project’s “main”

In fact to
maintain the project schedule, construction of the North Dam was supposed to
have been started by May 2015 – now delayed of necessity to October 2016 (after
river diversion).
Now moving
from lack of information to “misinformation” or as Minister Kent would say
“misspeaking”, we should note that  last
week Ed Martin stated swaggeringly in front of a group of media on the Muskrat
Falls site that – “The Spillway – it’s done .”

If so, why
is Nalcor not starting the diversion of the river now; why the delay till October
Because, in
spite of Ed’s reassurances, the Spillway is decidedly not finished – far from

The concrete
part of the gate system maybe finished but there are still no steel gates or
other water flow control features installed ; this alone will take a minimum of
6 more months and even if that “piece of work” was started right away, Nalcor
would still miss the  optimum late winter
2016 low river level construction window.

And apparently there’s a few more (as in very many) buckets of concrete
still left to be placed to line the spillway chute from the control gates down to
sea level below the falls .  

But in any event, missing a key milestone by 18 months?


Most of us
have had enough experience with some sort of construction to immediately
conclude – Holy Smoke this means we will need some serious extra cash over and
above the cost over runs announced to date (which only cover what’s accumulated
to August 31,2015).

given the very incomplete information released by Nalcor, moving from that
chill in the spine feeling to clarity as to the true damage is not that easy.

Because sometimes
missing one particular project schedule milestone can have expensive “knock on
“ effects on other parts of the project.

try to pinpoint these critical “choke points” by something they call a ”critical
path” analysis.

In the good old days, a large printout of The Critical
Path would be spread along one wall of the project office , an ever present
reminder of the need to keep everything on schedule – any failure to do so
meant extra costs.
Got to be a Muskrat
Falls critical path diagram out there somewhere – although must admit, I have
talked to one very senior Muskrat Falls Project Manager who swears in the years
he worked on the project he never did see one and questions whether one really exists
– unlike any other project he has ever worked on.

I kind of find
it all hard to believe  – it’s probably buried
somewhere deep down in Nalcor’s Blue Bunker on the Crosstown Arterial  in St John’s — accessible only by Ed M
and  Gill B and a small group of trusties
– something like the Enigma Machine – eyes only – by now it’s been revised more
times than Nalcor’s executive bonus formula.

So – What we
really need is both Nalcor’s “as sanctioned” critical path diagram from
December 2012 and their latest version.

Maybe then we
would be able to start zoning in on how big a problem we face.


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?


  1. What is interesting is that Mr. Gordon effectively did what Nalcor did, which was rebaseline the project at the 24 month mark (horizontal axis). But in the first 2 years of the project, they lost 6 months. Nalcor has had a consistent record of not meeting the project schedule. They now plan to recover by exceeding the planned amount of work they did each month. It is not possible unless they first meet what they planned. Even this past summer, they could not accomplish in 4 months, what they said they could a year earlier. They will never pick up schedule this way.

    This project is in big trouble. This is clearly demonstrated by Ed Martin inability to answer the most basic questions. When will you be done, and how much will it cost.

    He knows the general answer… it has to be consistent (from schedule perspective) to what Mr. Gordon says.

    The challenge on this project now it to have commercial power for the 2020 winter, and to keep the cost below 10 Billion with IDC.

    This will be a real challenge on both fronts. It is time for Nalcor to come clean. It is also time for Dwight Ball to call for a truly independent review of this project. I am not a proponent of firing senior management of Nalcor, but I think its time they were supplemented with people with real experience in hydro projects.

  2. It must be wonderful to set back and criticize the actions of another. Little did I know that Cabot Martin is just another wind bag who feels he has a gift inherent to build a first class hydro development except NOONE asked him.His primary argument is surpassed only but his demonstrated genius in developing a cod grow bonanza. Lets all swim down that river.