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October 8, 2018

Retired BC Hydro engineer calls for independent safety review of Site C dam

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Calls for an independent safety review of the Site C dam project are mounting following a large landslide near the project’s worksite that has blocked the only road to a small community and led to the evacuation of residents by boat.

Retired BC Hydro engineer Vern Ruskin said this week’s mushrooming slide is a reminder that the project is located in an area prone to landslides and that a major landslide close to the Site C dam structure could compromise it.

“If the landslide is a long way off and all they get is a wave then the dam can withstand it,” Ruskin told The Narwhal. “If the landslide is close enough it could damage the dam structure and it may fail.”

Ruskin, who directed the team that designed the five dams originally planned for the Peace River, including Site C, said he has repeatedly asked the B.C. government and BC Hydro to conduct an independent safety review of the project due to its location in a valley with a history of large landslides and because of a change to the design of the dam structure.

When former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell announced his government would proceed with the Site C project in 2010, the dam structure was depicted as a very slight arc. But in 2014 an L-shaped structure — which Ruskin says to the best of his knowledge has never been used anywhere in the world for an earthen dam — was revealed when former premier Christy Clark announced final approval of the project.

The new structure is described by one engineering firm that helped design it as “unique” and an “innovative solution” to stabilize the original river valley wall.

Ruskin said that is all the more reason for an independent safety review of the $10.7 billion dam, the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history.

“Someone outside of BC Hydro has to do the review,” said Ruskin, who taught engineering economics at UBC for 14 years. “It seems to me that if you are going to do something completely different you should test it.”

Keep reading in The Narwhal


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