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


The presence of quick clay and soft sensitive clay has been
known ever since the Spur was first investigated in 1965. Several consulting
engineering companies have looked at the Spur and issued reports on their
investigations. Many have proposed solutions to stabilize the Spur.

However, all this work can be regarded as preliminary since
the geotechnical investigations were incomplete. None of the proposed solutions
were “approved for construction”, nor intended to be. They were the first
attempts to find a suitable solution to the instability demonstrated by the
many landslides in the vicinity of the Spur, and on the Spur.

SNC have undertaken further geotechnical tests and have
developed a design which has been “approved for construction”, and has been

However, the design has
not been reviewed by senior geotechnical engineers with experience in sensitive
and quick clay, contrary to the assertions of Natural Resources Minister
Siobhan Coady.

James L. Gordon, P. Eng.

Also, the Canadian Dam Safety Guidelines are not applicable to
natural dams, and are intended for use on fully engineered and constructed
dams, such as those at Bay d’Espoir.

Also the statement “Engineering design was undertaken by
qualified geotechnical engineers,” validated by MWH Canada, the project’s
independent engineer, and consultant Hatch Ltd., Nalcor said, is not correct.
There has been no validation of the design, for the following reasons –

was retained by the Federal Government to report on the construction progress,
and their mandate specifically excludes any design review. I asked Mr. D.
Penman, Project Manager at MWH to comment on this, and his emailed dated
9/12/2016 reply was – “MWH have never at
any stage been involved in the design of the North Spur.  We act as
Lender’s Engineer to the Federal Government and have never at any point been
actively involved in the design of any of the project components.   I
think you should correct this as I believe some of this ends up in the
Newfoundland Press.”
asked an engineer at Hatch if they have reviewed the design of the North Spur,
and his verbal answer was all they have
contributed was a 3-dimensional computer program designed to simulate the
ground water levels in the spur during and after the reservoir is filled.

It is acknowledged that this statement needs corroboration by Hatch.
Other experts mentioned by Nalcor who have undertaken a
review are Dr. Lerouil and Professor Idriss. This is subject to interpretation
since –

Serge Leroueil, a professor at the University of Laval, Quebec City, in his
letter review of the SNC “Engineering Report – North Spur
Stabilization Works – Dynamic analysis study – Phase 2, dated May 2014”, sent
to Mr. Regis Bouchard, Lead Geotechnical Engineer for Muskrat dated August 24,
2014, Dr. Leroueil states in the opening paragraph – “my knowledge on the dynamic behaviour of soils and its analysis is
rather limited”
. In other words, he acknowledges that he is not qualified
to review the report.
     4.  The other expert mentioned by Nalcor
is the retired Professor Emeritus I. M. Idriss of the University of California
Davis Campus. He is a recognised expert in earthquakes. He attended a few
meetings, but never issued any reports.

This has been the main reason for my concerns about the North
Spur: a natural dam containing sensitive and quick clays, normally avoided at
all costs by dam designers, and built with no detailed review of the design by
qualified geotechnical experts.

Jim Gordon. P. Eng. (Retired)


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. Thank you James on yet more frightening, sobering news.

    God help us if this does not stop for a competent and transparent review of the spur engineering. There has been none to date, only the hare brained lies of Coady, Pimper

    Demand action now before disaster stains you future like the Quebec bridge collapse. Hubris and lies are a recipe for disaster.

    If you love Newfoundland and Labrador stand up, act up now.

  2. God indeed will have to help us, as those standing are in line waiting to win a million at Chase the Ace. CBC TV news carried that story 4 times in 1 hr last night. Makes the gene pool here questionable.
    Nalcor seeks to blame God for the Mud Lake flood. So a job to know if God is with us or not, we wait the investigation report.
    If God is good, then at least he gives us Mr Gordon.


  3. Pam Framptom of the Telegram is digging into MF lately, and officials seem to answer her email questions, thought often not in a clear way. Perhaps she will take up this issue, to expose the risk for the public record.

    • Where is she digging…if the officials are NALCOR then she will just get more cooked up answers, the spin they want the public to have. I remember a few years ago, NALCOR invited all the media and gave them the so called inside scoop, what they got was the coolaid, and they swallowed it hook line and sinker. Use to hear paddy on open line say give me the question and I will call NALCOR and get the answer. Like he had a direct line to Eddie, but those answers were totally misleading, false , deceiving and plain made up lies. That's why the public was not accurately informed, informed but with spin and lies. Guess there was other media in the same boat. Easier to repeat what they were told rather than dig to get the truth. Yup, that's about what the brave media did! and a lot of them are still doing it.

  4. Jim, are you still in Point Claire? We have had sandwiches together on the tailgate of a pickup on many occasions. I suppose we started tailgate talks as a safety tool or maybe they did that in ancient Rome? I too have concerns with the stability of the North Spur and whether the river can be harnessed at this location. I was involved in drafting the CDA guidelines and you are correct they were not developed for natural deposits but perhaps can be applied in some fashion. I have not seen Minister Coady's assertions and of course she is a politician with no qualifications in the subject of our concern. Ralph Peck thought the problem was solvable but I have no information that those involved are capable of it. I have also not seen their proposed remedial work and may never see it. In any case it is good to know that you are still well and engaged in such important matters.

  5. What on Earth (literally) will it take to get these corrupt politicians out of the way so we can do the right thing and investigate this horrendously dangerous fraud of a project?? !!! The majority of our citizens know it's rotten to the core and thousands are speaking out against it. Yet we can't get a Forensic Audit, a Public Inquiry or even any sort of reasonable safety assessment under way. Are we living in Russia? North Korea? or Canada ????

    • I keep noting the advance of the monster pylons beside the TCH in Dannyland, marching all the way to Galway, another fine mess.

      Memorial to Boondoggle. In perpetuity.

      We should hang rosary beads and miraculous medals off them.

    • You are probably right. With massive debts of 11B and climbing, high unemployment (+20% outside the city), youth exodus and elderly population there is no way the debts can be repaid. That which can't be repaid wont be repaid. The aftermath could be any number of things: a territory, Labrador sold to Quebec or a long term commission of government.

  6. Anyone thinks there aren't alternate forms of energy should think again:


    • This is a process of using waste, likely old wood, and wooden furniture etc, going to land fills. 90 percent of such waste is used to make pellets that can be burned for renewable energy for generating electricity , to be used by Emera, in Nova Scotia.
      Of course for Nfld , under Nalcor and our WAY FORWARD liberal government plan , this is illegal, and not acceptable, nor can any independent company use this to generate and sell electricity. Often old wood and furniture is dumped on some back road as an eyesore.
      We are Second WORST in the country for Conservation and Energy Efficiency……can`t get much worse, and no plan to get any better. I put that challenge to Fortis CEO, Barry Perry, in April, and no sign of concern from Fortis either.
      Winston Adams

    • Just like the fossil fuel/auto industry provides little incentive to conserve and reduce waste and pollution, the Power companies are in conflict with the 3 R's, when it comes to providing alternatives in conservation and energy efficiency. At my age, I know that I will never buy another gas fired auto, a grid/fossil fuelled house, any RV, ATV. toys, etc. As long as Governments are under the influence of strong lobbyists for oil and power grids, don't expect them to promote Conservation and Energy Efficiency. I can only hope the likes of Andy Wells and others will use their late understanding and redemption to climate change ideology, to re-engineer the infrastructure still wastefully utilizing fossil fuel and expensive grid energy.

    • Minister Coady yesterday was on NTV happily promoting the offshore work and more exploration. Present Husky job is to provide 3 billion to the province over the life of the project,which is only enough to feed Nalcor to finish Muskrat, but nothing for health , education and other services……meanwhile climate change continues to damage the fisheries, and much more. But she had many smiles, and no concern for conservation and efficiency in this province. As for Andy Wells to have a conversion, well, St. Paul had one, who knows! It may get him elected even.

    • The link posted at Anon 09:00 could have serious implications for NL if we were to adapt this sort of technology and apply it to household/commercial garbage (along with waste from sawmills and such industries) which not only could we supply a fuel for diesel generation of electricity but also the waste heat along with some Solar Thermal could be used to heat up either greenhouses or the air going into the generators at Holyrood. There would be an amount of diesel saved which is now used in sending plastic bottles back to the mainland for processing, a reduction in fuel imported at Holyrood and a savings in diesel used in food importation if greenhouses were constructed to supply the local market. Nova Scotia seems to be far ahead of NL in investigating and adapting sound multiple solutions for environmental problems.

    • Agree wells sat around on the pub with a big fat salary and did absolutely nothing about hydro, prevent dark nl, or muskrat, after being appointed by Danny, to do his bidding. And now Andy wants it save the St. John's tax payers from reckless high energy rates. And guess what the residents of St. John's will be dumb enough to elect him. Way to go townies.

    • Robert G. Holmes:
      Very noble suggestions you have there but you seem to forget that the oil industry is all that keeps this province afloat for now and this is the inherent problem in NL in that we have become to dependant on someone else (ie the oil companies) to solve our problems. If we are to tackle climate change then we are not only going to have to rid ourselves of fossil fuels but also drastically change our lifestyles. No more automobiles means no more drives around town, no more flights to exotic places and yes smaller houses and a leaner more local diet. Is anyone prepared for this type of change? We will have to see for I haven't seen it yet in NL nor anywhere else.

    • You are somewhat correct : but drives around town is ok if by electric cars powered by renewable energy, and public transit by renewable energy. Very difficult problem is those flights,(using 8 times more fuel than autos per mile) that needs to be highly taxed.
      You ask the most important question: is anyone prepared for this type of change: very very few, ….which suggests a worsening of climate change, likely to the point of natural feedback systems such as methane from permafrost melting etc,kicking in and no man made solution possible. Good chance we are doomed, with our generation being the biggest problem as to the cause and also to dismiss this. In Nfld, and our governments,and power companies there is little acknowledgement that this is even a problem.
      Al Gore is staying positive, and there is some good technology and trends………but likely too little too late.
      Winston Adams

  7. Anyone living downstream of the dam reading this blog care to comment? It seems that it is inevitable that the spur will fail and kill people downstream. The recent thesis on the spur suggests that we might not even be able to fill it without failing which is probably the best case because everyone can be on high alert during the fill phase. Worst case is it happens a few years later in the middle of the night when our guard is down and people die. I would be fighting for compensation so that I could relocate elsewhere and avoid the stress.

  8. The province needs the political leadership of mavericks like Bill Barry and Brad Cabana to carve out the entrenched rot in NL's political system. As well as Des Sullivan, David Vardy, Andy Wells, Cabot Martin, to name a few more…

    Otherwise this province is doomed to subservience as a bi-party political fiefdom, a northern banana republic… the taxpayers forever enured to an elite cabal of political culprits, and their cronies and hacks.

    Mr. Barry, if you're reading this, please consider another run at the PC leadership. The toilet needs to flushed.

    • The toilet needs to be flushed. That is a great line. I am an engineer in the provincial government and the need for flushing is very real. Even if we had good people running for leadership, they can't run the departments by themselves and have to rely on the deputy minister, various assistant deputy ministers, directors and managers. Most of these bureaucrats are the wrong people. They don't serve the public. They got promoted via political connections, the lack experience with anything other than the dysfunctional status quo and don't give a rats ass about the general population. They are in these positions because they are good sycophants and never rock the boat or challenge anything or strive for excellence. Part of the flushing process is to fire them all. Every one of them. Then hold public job competitions for good people.

      As for the North Spur, most non-management government engineers think the project is a very bad for the province. Those who were selected into management are sycophants and see it as visionary. They often state that thinking about something important is "Above their pay grade" despite being on that sunshine list. They remind me of the followers around the dictator Kim Jong um grinning from ear to ear while looking lovingly at their glorious leader. It is horrifying.

    • Anom at 15:01:
      The civil service isn't exactly innocent in most of these matters either. I have yet to hear a member of the civil service who put there job on the line and went against the political party in power. Muskrat Falls is just a series of failed Mega Projects in this province that were dreamed up for the purpose of employing people who would cast votes to the party with the widest dream and many in the Civil Service contently cheered them on since they new a pay check was in the mail regardless of what. This province needs leadership but I am guessing it will have to come from an appointment from the outside and not within NL society. There are to many people with tunnel vision in this province.

  9. There is a report by Hatch dated January 2014 called "Cold Eyes Review
    of Design and Technical Specifications North Spur Stabilization Works". I could not find it on the Nalcor website. Has anyone seen it and if so where?

  10. CUPE running ads on local TV of late, promoting their self-interests whilst the province hurtles towards financial ruin. They've even got one silly bugger on there emphatically stating that "we ARE the economy". Never mind the basic requirement of some sort of GDP upon which to build a sound economy.

    These poor, misinformed wretches brain-washed into the believing an economy is based on government excessively taxing its citizenry so as to pay for generous union contracts… no wonder this province is in such a dire financial situation.

  11. Could not find the cold eyes review by Hatch. There is a presentation by SNC-Lavalin dated January 2017. According to this presentation, the design was by unnamed qualified geotechnical engineers and the following "experts in the field of sensitive clays were involved in the research, analysis and review work:" SNC-Lavalin(Regis Bouchard Anthony Rattue; Hatch(Richard Donnely, Robert Ilett); Geologist Expert for earthquake science(Gail Atkinson); Dynamic Soil Expert(Professor Idriss); and Dr. Serge Leroueil.
    In addition there was an Advisory review panel(unnamed)established for the Muskrat facility. The design was further validated through independent reviews by unnamed individuals from MWH the project's independent engineer and by unnamed individuals from Hatch Ltd.
    I think you are correct a review by REALLY independent experts in the design and construction of dams consisting of and founded upon sensitive, quick, marine clays may be critically important for those living in the flood plain downstream and secondarily for the NL public to be reasonably confident in the success of this already excessively costly project.

  12. Mentioned above is incineration to generate electricity. There are many examples in the USA of very successful plants as well as boondoggles rife with political corruption, bad engineering and abusive financing. The safest method is to find a operational plant that works well and duplicate the design. You also want to operate it as a non profit service for the public, not a P3. The following From the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is worth reading, as well as the comments.

  13. Humanitarian, religious and spiritual, environmental, economic, political, legal, legal and historical public items supporting Labrador, Labradorians, The Labrador Land Protectors Civil Rights Movement, NunatuKavut, Nunatsiavut, Innu Nation and Qalipu First Nation Campaigning against Nalcor Crown Corporation Hydro project, Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador [NL] Canada