Independent Dam Safety Review And Audit By Hatch
February, 2017

Guest Post by James L. Gordon, P. Eng. (Ret’d)

James L. Gordon, P. Eng.
I have read the “Hatch “Audit released by Nalcor just a few days ago. The first issue that I noticed
is that a company cannot “audit” its own work – it is a blaring conflict of
interest, and I am surprised that Hatch accepted the assignment. Of course
everything is perfect, why would Hatch say otherwise when commenting on their
own work?

The second issue is that the report is limited to a review of
the project management and operation – quote from slide 11 – “The objective of this presentation is to
cover the results of a dam safety audit and overall review performed for the
Muskrat Falls GS between January 29 – February 2, 2017
” And – quote from
slide 17 – “The review of the design of
structures did not form part of this audit”.

So, the entire report can be deposited in File 13¹. Bearing
this in mind – what is missing from the report? The immediate reply is no
numbers! The entire report is based on the opinion of one geotechnical
engineer, with no supporting documentation. I would have expected to see at
least the following –

From the Executive Summary –

1.      Quote
from Slide 5 – “Inspection and reporting
– Extensive instrumentation, real time data and collection and assessment
This is similar to a doctor asking an intern how the patient is progressing,
and receiving a reply “Well, we are monitoring his heart, measuring blood
pressure, pulse rate and oxygenation”. The intern’s reply does not tell the
doctor whether the patient is progressing or on the verge of passing away. In
the audit there is no data and no analysis of any data.
2.   Quote
from Slide 5 – “Emergency preparedness –
Well documented, dam break assessments performed, actual level 2 emergency
response performed
”. During the cofferdam incident last November, the
emergency preparedness plan was found to be deficient when the residents of Mud
Lake were not notified of the emergency. There is no mention of how this was
rectified, nor any mention of a test of the system. Tests are essential, and
usually reveal the weak links in the command structure.
3.    Quote
from Slide 5 – “Operations, Maintenance
and Surveillance – Number, quality of instruments and surveillance frequency
exceeds typical industry best practices
”. See comment #1. There is no
mention of instrumentation data.
example – some North Spur piezometers reacted to an increase in headpond level
several years ago. How did the same piezometers react to the increased headpond
level last November? Was there no reaction confirming the impermeability of the
cut-off walls?

example – impermeable clay and till placed on the face of the North Spur and in
the cofferdam needs to be compacted to 95% Proctor (a measure of the
compaction) to attain the required impermeability. There is no mention of how
many tests achieved this standard, and no mention of the percentage of tests
below 95%.

another example – the spillway and intake form part of the dam containing
structures. There is no mention of the compression tests on concrete cylinders
from each concrete pour – how many achieved the required strength and what %
were below strength.
4.  Quote
from Slide 6 – “Upstream cofferdam
remedial program – Cofferdam instrumentation, monitoring and inspections
sufficient to minimize risks while cofferdam is remediated”
See comment #1.
The only way to tell whether the remedial measures are effective is to monitor
the volume of seepage. This is difficult in winter with everything covered in
ice and snow.

is mention on slide 51 that cofferdam seepage is currently being read once per
day, and during impoundment the rate will increase to every 2 hours. This is
reasonable, but the method of recording seepage should have been mentioned, and
data provided for seepage flows since the completion of the two upstream
temporary cofferdams.

The chart
on Slide 43 shows piezometer water levels, with only one piezometer (0+291)
showing any decrease as would be expected from the remedial measures. Without
knowing the precise location of the piezometers, interpretation of the data is
not possible. A drawing showing a cross-section through the cofferdam with
piezometer locations is missing.

The next
chart on Slide 44 shows the reaction of piezometers to the rising water levels.
However, there is no link between piezometers to show the reaction of
individual piezometers, which moved up, and where were the piezometers located
with respect to the cofferdam cross-section.

Other miscellaneous comments on lack of numbers are –

5.      About
the middle of the presentation, slide 33 shows a plan photo of the cofferdam
taken last fall, before major seepage started. It clearly shows the green
seepage flowing across the dewatered area between the cofferdams, and the green
discharge from the downstream culvert. This seepage should have been stopped
prior to placing the impervious fill between the two upstream temporary
cofferdams, and is the reason for current difficulties. Impervious fill should
have been placed on the face of the upstream cofferdam until the seepage
6.      On
the cofferdams, there is the statement, from slide 35, quote – “Current levels of leakage in line with what
would be expected for a cofferdam of this type
” I would beg to differ. The
seepage through the upstream cofferdam was excessive from the start, it was
never staunched and resulting in depositing the impermeable clay through water,
with the fine material coming in contact with the rock foundation being flushed
downstream, resulting in the current seepage issues.
And from
the same slide – quote – “Remediation
program underway to deal with increased leakage that occurred on first
impoundment ‒ Measures are appropriate and appear to be effective.
” The
continued grouting program, now extending for almost 4 months since the seepage
increased on headpond filling and no decrease in piezometer water levels
contradict this statement.

It would have been far preferable to engage a consultant with
no prior contracts with NALCOR to undertake the audit. There are several such
as Klohn Crippen Berger and Golder Associates with an office in St. Johns. If
there is another audit, NALCOR should consider the above consultants.

To reiterate – it is not possible for a company to audit its
own work – put the report in file 13 and forget about it.

Jim Gordon P.Eng. 
1. “File 13” is a euphemism for the trash can.


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. Is this the same Jim Gordon who was quoted in the CBC article? http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/north-spur-now-stable-engineer-1.3834734

    Gordon feels confident about the stabilization work done at the North Spur, after he had a chance to talk about it with former colleague Sean Hinchberger.

    "When I was calling for a review board, he was my first name on the list as being chairman, but he's already reviewed it," Gordon said.

    "So I think the dam is perfectly safe."

    • Nalcor was untruthful to him and indicated that no quick clay was in the north spur. After pointing out the dangers in a well reasoned article that was posted here, he was later quoted as saying "Gordon tells VOCM News says he’s since reversed that opinion, which he says was based on incorrect findings by European engineer, Dr. Stig Bernander. He says Dr. Bernander incorrectly identified all the landslides in the area as progressive slides, caused by quick clay."

      However, shortly after this, it was noted that trucks leaving the North Spur with soil had it liquefy as they drove over rough roads. This indicated that there was indeed quick clay in the North Spur.

      I am sure that others here can clarify the story. I would trust dissenting engineers that are willing to expose themselves to expensive litigation, ridicule and other threats for the public good before I would trust Nalcor.

  2. Here in BC, it is referred to as "Professional Reliance". Where self regulation is the order of the day. Some notable failures, (Mount Polley earth dam, and Shawinigan Lake hazardous waste facility), have occurred and government regulation has gone missing.

  3. In December 2016, after receipt of new information (three new facts), Mr. Gordon again asked the question "Is the North Spur safe?"

    Here are summary excepts from his more fully informed analyses:

    "Three facts have emerged since I arrived at the conclusion that the North Spur was indeed safe…"

    – There is a major inconsistency…with a liquidity index ranging between 0.1 and 2.0, (since) the shear strength values should be within the range of about 0.1 and 100kPa based on the extreme upper and lower bounds as determined by Houston and Mitchell…
    – The upstream slope has now been covered with layers of clay and gravel sloping at 3:1 and slightly steeper at 2.5:1 towards the bottom. It is not known whether this is adequate.

    – The third new fact is the discovery of two pockets of quick clay in the North Spur. This is a game-changer. They were discovered sometime in November of last year. The first public knowledge of the discovery was mentioned in the recently released report by the Independent Engineer for mid-July 2016.

    His conclusion:– "This new data indicates that it is now absolutely essential to have an independent Review Board undertake a comprehensive assessment of the stability of the North Spur."

    See http://www.vision2041.com/north-spur.html

    • Why would he want to meet with the folks that deceived him before? Once burned, twice shy.

      Do you still believe the Nalcor myth that there is no quick clay at the north spur….except for the two "small" pockets that they were caught obfuscating?

      Why will Nalcor not release the spur engineering for public scrutiny? Your defence of the secrecy at this point is hard to understand. Is transparency anathema to your world view?

    • You pivoted instead of responding to my questions, Very Trumpian of you.

      I have explained that only considering a disembodied article without context is misleading and serves only Nalcor secrecy. Why do you do that?

    • You are projecting your issues I am afraid. I have been involved since 2011 and have done analysis and offered solutions.

      You on the other hand offer few solutions and choose to take gratuitous swings on those that do. You have yet to answer my questions.

      A bit of self reflection might do you some good.

  4. It's inappropriate for Hatch to undertake this assessment it's also stupid for Nalcor to award them the assessment work. Furthermore PEGNL should step in the public interest and voice an objection it should not be left to a private engineer to initiate this discussion. And oh where is rhe government regulators on this while issue. Muskrat I'd a total screw up and will bankrupt this province. it's time for a public inquiry and action.

    • PEGNL is compromised when it comes to Nalcor.

      Gerard Dunphy, P. Eng. He is Chair elect of PEGNL. His contribution? 2010-Present – Nalcor Energy – Manager, Project Execution (Non-Regulated)
      2005-2010 – Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro – Manager, Telecontrol Engineering
      2003-2005 – Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro – Manager, Infrastructure & Software Support
      2002-2003 – Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro – Manager, Network Services
      2000-2002 – Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro – Senior Project Leader
      1991-2000 – Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro – Communication Engineer

      Kris Costello, P. Eng ran for the position of Non-executive Director. He employer was Nalcor Energy – Oil and Gas: 2009-Present; Asset, Development and (Currently) Operations Manager.

      If you Google present and past board members of Nalcor you will see that Nalcor has infested the organization, presumably to control it.

      MUN is also infested. Jim Keating for example is a board of regents member. His contribution? In 2005, he joined Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro as vice-president business development and in Dec. 2008, was appointed vice-president of Nalcor Energy, where he is accountable on behalf of the provincial government, for its interests in offshore oil projects and its continued growth of the industry through acquisitions and exploration. Mr. Keating is a registered member of the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and Labrador.

      Nalcor is to Newfoundland and Labrador what Goldman Sachs is to the USA. It has its tentacles into everything. They call it the vampire squid for good reason.

    • Indeed, MUN is infested in more ways that is indicated, as I have recently become aware. I was once sceptical of Bruno`s description of our feudal society, but there is a small bank running the complete show, all to the detriment of the province and the benefit of a few.

  5. I watch this morning the public inquiry in the USA, on CNN, as to whether the Trump people have committed offences against the USA, in their involvement with Russia,or USA intelligence officials committing an offence by leaking information to the press, that may be of public interest. Certainly, the media there love leaks and are protected by the Constitution on receiving the leaked information. It is impressive to watch the openness of the process and officials being put in the spotlight with tough questions. How could one not compare their openness with our secrecy here, whether Muskrat or police shooting and killing a civilian, which took almost 2 years to get underway, and attempts to keep reports secret.
    Uncle Gnarley is the best we have at attacking this secrecy and incompetence here.
    A Hatch job by Hatch. A self audit. No test results and important information missing……like going on a wing and a prayer. If this is engineering at it`s best in Nfld…then what does our future hold! 300 million soon to be spent on the CORE SCIENCE building at MUN. What core science will be done there, pray tell, while next year we build one new school for the netire province, and allocate 7 million towards replacing the 1855 era Waterford hospital!
    Maybe they will hold the public inquiry at the new Core Science bldg there once the North Spur fails, and Hatch, Nalcor and government officials will be examined under the watchful eye of Justice Leo Barry, as the false assumptions for Muskrat get exposed,and why we had to declare bankruptcy, and how Emera and Fortis ended up with our island power and transmission facilities.

  6. Well, this just in…….Norway is the happiest nation in the world, with Denmark second. Canada comes in number 7.
    Now Norway, like Nfld has vast oil and hydro resources, and I believe something like almost a trillion dollars socked away in their oil heritage fund.
    Muskrat, said Danny Williams is our heritage fund.
    Now I believe Norway has Viking roots, and who came to Nfld a thousand years ago and figured this place was a bit too risky. But they sure are happy over there.
    Now remember when Joey had The Happy Province stamped on our licence plates! And we must still be very happy here , with no serious protests over power bill to double, or Emera taking our assets (more like being given to them), and our public debt at record levels, and cut backs on services.
    They say ignorance is bliss, which means happy. Canada may be number 7, but we must be number 1 in Canada as to happiness. So maybe there are two paths to become happy….one has Norway did, the other like we have done…….that is, to remain ignorant, and pretend that 12 billion for boondoggle is no big deal.

    • Had we heeded Norway's advice on extracting royalties on our decimated natural resources, from the global corporations, we could finance a dozen Muskrat type mega-projects by now. Not too late to learn, but where is the leadership?

  7. I see that Wonder Boy Locke still gets attention from the media, The Telegram, and predicts hard times ahead……..wonder why, wonderboy! He makes no mention of the Booondoggle and whether it should be put on ice to help save what little economy we have left.

  8. For an engineering firm to make statements without data that is reliable is incompetent. It seems incompetence breeds incompetence, that is Nalcor, which is incompetent, seeks consultants that will give them the results they desire,even if that result is flawed, and may be false. And there is no accountability.Facts don`t matter.
    Meanwhile the recent poll, reported by the CBC shows 74 percent of Nflders are extremely concerned by the provincial debt. HELLO! Anyone hear of the Muskrat boondoggle, needing another 6 or 8 billion, declining island power demand, transmission reliability issues, and Emera to make some 50 million a year profit off power coming to the Avalon. HELLO!
    But got to feed the beast. Anyone notice the silence of high profile citizens:Ed Roberts, Clyde Wells, John Crosbie………and many many more who say not a word on our economic situation……these men who were leaders in the the concern when Smallwood wasted tens of millions that indebted our province……..now just silence from these people who have their nest eggs well protected.And our business people and construction industry …….a lot of shops will be closing up……yet they are silent as we feed the beast.