In 1989, the largest earthquake in eight decades hit California. Damage was deadly and extensive, including partial collapse of the vital San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.
UC Berkeley scholar Karen Trapenberg Frick wrote of the 25 years it took for Californians to build a bridge replacement. Dr. Frick said the project was “a cautionary tale to which any governing authority embarking on a megaproject should pay heed.”
British Columbia’s highly paid bureaucrats and political leaders were not paying attention.
BC Hydro had first announced plans for a $2 billion hydro-electric power project at Site C on the Peace River in 1979. Premier Bill Bennett’s cabinet shelved the project in 1983 but BC Hydro had it rise from the dead in 1989. Two years later, Premier-for-Seven-Months Rita Johnston agreed BC was overdue for a concrete fix. Two years after that, the project was dead again as BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen concluded the dam was too costly and environmentally unacceptable.
In 2001, NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh nodded approvingly when BC Hydro gave the project new life. Premier Gordon Campbell pushed it forward and Christy Clark, leader of a pay-to-play government, saw Site C as a way to fill the pockets of BC Liberals’ most generous donors.
The hoped-for time of finishing is now 2025 and the budget $16 billion. Because design work remains underway after years of construction, final cost and completion date are unknown.
In BBC radio’s Too Big To Succeed, Matthew Syed, host of the series Sideways, examined the Bay Bridge reconstruction. Over-time and over-budget, it was a megaproject that cost six times the original estimate. However, the bridge did have great utility, something that cannot be said for Site C because of non-destructive alternatives that would cost a fraction of the Peace River boondoggle.
Excerpts from the BBC radio program show the parallels between California’s infamous megaproject and the one in British Columbia.
First is about the consequences of building important structures on unstable ground.
The second describes how crazy projects are born:
The next illustrates why things go wrong and why negative outcomes are predictable:
This brings to mind the words of American war monger Donald Rumsfeld:
There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
The final excerpt details why economic zombies are sustained:
I provide here a few moments of Matthew Syed’s report. The full episode is linked above. Sideways is available as a podcast and it regularly offers informative works, touching on diverse subjects. It is worth following.