Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

Muskrat Falls, the Tower of Babel and sticking to the script

When it comes to the Muskrat Falls project, Azzo Rezori writes, Ed Martin would have everybody speak one language, and that would be Nalcor's.
The Muskrat Falls project, as seen from the air. (CBC)

If you've forgotten the story of the Tower of Babel or never heard it, here it is, as told in the Bible, Genesis 11, 1-9.  

And they (the people of Babel) said, "Come, let us build ourselves a ... tower whose top is in the heavens, let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth."

But the Lord came down to see the ... tower which the sons of man had built.

And the Lord said, "Indeed, the people are one, and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do: now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.

Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech."

When it comes to the Muskrat Falls project, Nalcor boss Ed Martin would also have everybody speak one language — Nalcor's. 

Here's a sample of it, provided by Martin as he fielded questions by reporters invited to tour the construction site earlier this week.

"We know that we need this power," he said. "We know that it's the best option. Absolutely nothing has changed there.

"This is a project that gives us energy independence. We own it. We control it. We control the revenue.

"So we're excited about where this is going."

Muskrat Falls is already half built; there's no going back. Like the Tower of Babel, it's also generating plenty opportunity for people to start speaking past each other.

Under control?

The continuing cost overruns, for example  from $6.2 billion in 2012, to $6.99 billion in 2014, and now to $7.65 billion in 2015.

"How can people believe this is under control?" one reporter, the Telegram's James MacLeod, asked during the scrum with Martin.

Martin explained that all the major contracts have been let, all the necessary materials purchased, all the major cost pressures put behind. Then he reverted to his own language.

"We know the project, over the course of the next 50 years, will provide savings and returns to the people of this province in the range of over $60 billion."

Yes, but how about the cost overruns, MacLeod insisted. "Should people expect more?" 

Everything is under control, Martin said, even construction of the power house, which had a shaky start and has run into delays.

"With respect, sir," MacLeod countered. "You didn't really answer my question. There's still a lot of work to be done. Should people expect more cost overruns?"

"You're asking me, are there any more cost risks associated with this project? Well, I have to be frank and honest, it's a big project."

Not quite good enough

If that was Martin's way of saying, yes, it wasn't good enough for the reporter.

"So, if there was a $1.4 billion overrun on the first half of the project, could there be a $1.4 billion overrun on the second half?"

There are still some cost risks, Martin conceded and promptly reverted to his own language again.

"For the first time in our history, particularly in the Churchill River, we have a project here that is going to be owned and controlled by us forever, and all the revenue is going to stay right here in Newfoundland and Labrador."

The role of the tower builders is to keep all eyes on the mission and its principles; the role of the sceptics to demand straight answers to questions designed to open all the cans of worms associated with building towers. 

It doesn't take the Lord to come down and confuse human language; humans are quite capable of doing it themselves.

And it didn't stop there.

Nalcor CEO Ed Martin on Muskrat Falls budget 4:31

Martin said because of the power house delay, first power will not arrive in December 2017 as originally planned, but move into 2018.

"So when in 2018 exactly is that power expected," the inevitable question followed.

Martin replied it all depends on how much time can be made up, now that construction of the power house has been straightened out.

"So, there's no specific time. It could be as much as a year delay?"

Project Manager Scott O'Brien gave the media a tour of the facility on Monday. 1:16

Martin was no longer listening. He turned to another reporter to ask him another question.

I imagine the Lord up there shaking His/Her head, smiling, leaning over to whoever happens to be sitting by His/Her side, and saying, "Bless them in my name, they're still at it."  

About the Author

Azzo Rezori

Perspective

Azzo Rezori has been working with CBC News in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1987, and reports regularly for Here & Now and other broadcasts.

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