Inspection reports cite environmental concerns with Mackenzie Valley fibre optic project

Installation of an $84 million fibre optic line along the Mackenzie Valley has hit some 'bumps,' with trenches eroding and some segments of the cable poking above the ground, according to a series of inspection reports reviewed by CBC.

Exposed cable, eroding trenches noted in 1st year of Ledcor's $84M construction project

Installation of an $84 million fibre optic line along the Mackenzie Valley has hit some 'bumps' in its first year, according to inspection reports from the N.W.T.'s Department of Land. (Department of Lands Inspection Report)

Installation of an $84 million fibre optic cable line along the Mackenzie Valley has hit some "bumps," with trenches eroding and segments of cable poking above the ground, according to a series of inspection reports reviewed by CBC.

The reports show these problems and other instances of "unacceptable" wildlife and fisheries habitat protection and waste disposal that occurred during the first year of construction of the Mackenzie Valley fibre link.

When the fibre link is finished it will run from Fort Simpson to Inuvik and bring high speed internet to the whole region. Construction is expected to wrap up by the middle of 2016.

A trench near Fort Good Hope shows signs of erosion. Exposed holes can pose 'a risk to wildlife (example, broken legs) and has a risk of eroding in the future if not backfilled,' one inspection report said. (Department of Lands Inspection Report)

Inspection reports began highlighting erosion problems in late May 2015, at Campbell Creek, near the town of Inuvik. Inspectors noticed uncovered trenches, some as deep as 25 centimetres.

"On some of the slopes' spring runoff caused erosion in the trenches and silt build-up at lower elevations," a May inspection report said.

When inspectors visited later in July, problems had gotten worse and new areas of erosion appeared.

In the Sahtu region, between Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope, inspectors began noticing similar erosion in August.

"There are at least four sections along the fibre optic line between Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope where the trench is eroding, causing gullies to form that reach up to 2.5 metres in width and 1.5 metres and have exposed the cable," an Aug. 1 report said.

The same report notes erosion and pooling water at cable connection boxes and areas where the line runs underneath rivers and streams.

A measurement stick tracks erosion between Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope. (Department of Lands Inspection Report)

"In some cases these holes have filled with water and the box has tilted/begun to float," the report states.

The same report notes that a trench along an access road north of Norman Wells to Fort Good Hope has been "filled improperly." The exposed holes run as deep as 46 centimetres.

"This area however poses a risk to wildlife (example, broken legs) and has a risk of eroding in the future if not backfilled," the report said. 

Exposed wire, poking above ground

During the winter construction months, the reports cite numerous occasions where inspectors alerted the contractor of areas where the fibre line cable was exposed or poking above ground.

Along the Sahtu winter road, south of Norman Wells at Vermillion Creek, a February report said "the cable is strung along the side of the bridge and held on with what appears to be zip ties and buried again on the other side." 

Exposed cable near Campbell Creek that inspectors spotted in May. (Department of Lands Inspection Report)

In many areas where the report notes erosion, inspectors also noticed the fibre line appearing above ground.

"In approximately 10 creek crossings the cable was exposed. At the bigger creeks, it was hard to tell if the cable is floating at a lower depth as the water level is still very high," a May report at Inuvik's Campbell Creek notes. 

Environmental concerns

The reports cite numerous occasions where contractors have cut down trees and haven't appropriately disposed of the timber.

"These piles contain salvageable timber," a January report inspection report conducted near Norman Wells said. 

"(It) must be pulled out/cut down respectively and made available to community members," the same report said.

The reports commend the contractors for many attempts to have drip trays underneath equipment, however, the inspectors also found instances of missing trays and in one case a tray under a fuel storage tank was ripped.

In another March report, it warns the contractor twice that a hose to a fuel storage unit was left hanging with no containment in the event of a spill. 

A trench for the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link is photographed near Campbell Creek near Inuvik in 2015. The fibre line, experts say, is not being used for its full purpose of connecting five communities in the Mackenzie Valley to reliable, competitive internet. (Department of Lands Inspection Report)

In July, there was a "small oil spill" near the Campbell Creek picnic area off the Dempster Highway, which inspectors picked up thanks to a complaint from a local berry picker to the Gwich'in Tribal Council.

"A small amount of garbage debris was also observed at the site," the same report notes.

Garbage disposal, according to several reports, is a "minor" but recurring issue at the worksites along the fibre optic line. Inspectors found items such as left over plastic tubing, plastic fencing and cable spools. 

Follow-up work

The inspection reports order the contractor to submit work plans to fix the issues highlighted.

"We have had our bumps along the way but overall everyone has been positive and willing to work together," wrote Sean Craig, an analyst with the Finance Department, in an email.

A report showing the progress of construction on the fibre link. When it's finished it will run from Fort Simpson to Inuvik and bring high speed internet to the whole region. (Department of Finance)

The department said the contractor addressed some of these concerns in the summer months using erosion control strategies like berms, trench plugs, silt fences and re-planting vegetation.

The contractor, Ledcor, is currently addressing the remaining problem areas the inspection reports highlight and will continue to monitor the line for signs of erosion in the coming months and years, according to the Department of Finance.

It added that none of this remediation work will increase the final cost of the fibre line and it's still within the $84 million budget.

Ledcor has not responded to an interview request.


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