Weeds, snow — and sabotage — have contributed to problems with moose detection systems on the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland, according to the company that built them.
CBC News used access to information requests to obtain emails between Safeguards of Canada Inc., and senior transportation officials.
“Gentlemen, as you can imagine we are as frustrated as you with the intermittent issues being experienced at both the Salmonier Line and Grand Falls-Windsor installations,” Safeguards’ national business development manager wrote on Feb. 22.
As a CBC News investigation revealed last month, the two systems have been down for significant periods since the moose detection pilot project was launched nearly two years ago.
The Grand Falls-Windsor site was either partially or fully affected almost half the time, with the Salmonier Line location knocked out for 106 days between the fall of 2011 and summer of 2013.
Emails shed light on issue
In an April 12 email, the same Safeguards official — whose name has been blacked out in the records released by the government — outlined some of the problems.
“While we agree that the system near Salmonier Line has not been performing well in the past several months …”
The next four lines of text are blacked out, before the message continues.
“It appears now that the new radio transmitters and the two strobe controllers were intentionally shorted out and blown beyond repair and the adjustment knob on all timer relays were forced and broken, making it impossible to set the flasher times.”
Safeguards also blamed weeds in the summer, and snow in the winter, for playing havoc with the system’s infrared beams, creating false moose readings.
The company also pointed the finger at the government.
“[A government employee] also made it clear that despite the wording in the contract that Transportation and Works would clear the weeds and the snow between the towers to keep the beams from being blocked, his crews were not able to actually do that and he feels that in the winter months the deep snow between the tower would normally block most of the beams on the Salmonier site,” the Safeguards official noted.
The company recommended installing a weed inhibitor during the summer. The towers were also moved back from the highway in an effort to resolve the problem.
In early June, Safeguards had an engineering team in the province.
“The majority of the problems found in the Salmonier site appeared to be a direct result of the sabotage, which they found had spread beyond the strobe controllers and into at least one of the detection towers,” the Safeguards official wrote in an email to the province on June 7.
He said company engineers fixed wiring at both locations, changed batteries, and replaced damaged components at Salmonier.
‘The system is working like a charm’
While the name of the Safeguards official is blacked out on documents provided to CBC News, the LinkedIn profile for Colin Wright lists him with the exact same job title.
Wright told CBC News Wednesday the series of problems that has afflicted the moose detectors now finally seem to be in the rear-view mirror.
“The system is working like a charm,” Wright said. “It actually works beautifully.”
He said the alleged sabotage caused $25,000 worth of damage. Wright acknowledged that Safeguards couldn’t prove sabotage was the cause.
There were other problems.
A car running into the flasher system in Grand Falls-Windsor was responsible for a 12-week service outage because of a delay in sourcing parts. Wright said spare parts will now be stocked locally.
'I’d just like to tell the people of the province we’re working incredibly hard to get the system to work.' - Colin Wright, Safeguards of Canada
And he noted that alarm logs at both sites will be constantly monitored for false moose readings caused by obstructions, so that problem areas can be flagged and fixed.
The combination of factors that knocked out the systems was “a series of unfortunate events,” Wright said.
“I’d just like to tell the people of the province we’re working incredibly hard to get the system to work,” he noted.
Transportation and Works Minister Paul Davis was unavailable for an interview.
But last month he told CBC News that work done by Safeguards in June gave some “very interesting indications” about what was going wrong.
He declined to get into specific details.
“They’re indicating that it may not have been just simply a failure in the systems themselves. There may have been some other actions at play here that caused problems for these systems. So I’m quite interested to know more about that … and how they’ve reached those conclusions.”
The department declined comment on the company's allegations of possible sabotage.
The Grand Falls-Windsor site is currently working, while the Salmonier Line location is temporarily offline for brush-cutting operations to clear vegetation in the area.