Site C

Survival of the unfittest… megaprojects

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.

Categories: Site C, Site C History

14 replies »

  1. Now BC is on a path to credit downgrades ( unless the Government stops borrowing and spending) the money will start to become harder to get and more expensive to get. Perhaps the BC government will copy the Alberta gov. and ask health care workers to take a cut in pay.

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    • Your right, it’s not impossible. If anything First Nations in the area would be the ones too take the lead in putting a final stop too it. With the backing of the rest of us of course. It is not at the Point of No Return as BC NDP Liberal party leader and liar John Horgan says.

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  2. I notice politicians rarely admit they are wrong, even when they’re eager to apologise for past wrongs by others in order to score points with the public. But saying that a megaproject was a bad idea and should be stopped–that never happens.

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    • So true. When they are really wrong they try to take self congratulatory victory laps and close their little circle and pat each other on the back, as they did after the horrific heat wave deaths, and Long Term Care facility deaths, where so many lives could have been saved.
      As for Site C Horgan and his people have been either missing in action, and when they do make statements, it’s just lie, after lie, after lie for their special interests. He is actually one of the biggest hypocrites just like Trudeau and so many others when it comes to environmental protection and climate change action. Same as with First Nations treaty rights and reconciliation. Hypocrite Horgan even got on the BC Liberals LNG bandwagon. But hey, it’s just politics to them. Even when they get a whole bunch of people killed they try and get out of their responsibility for the mayhem that they allowed to happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. News Flash!

    The 18 km Surrey to Langley extension of the Expo Line now estimated to cost $3.95 billion.

    Rail for the Valley’s 130 km Vancouver to Chilliwack light DMU service (pre LRT), max 3 trains per hour per direction, $1.23 billion.

    Go figure!

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  4. There are many examples over the years of BC Premiers and their Energy Ministers looking their citizens in the eye through a camera lens and issuing pronouncements about Site C that have turned out to be false. Whether it’s the budget, the demand forecast supporting the requirement, the cost of alternatives, independent oversight, market projections, site stability, environmental impacts, or respect for indigenous rights, they have all demonstrably misled us.

    As Norm points out, we are years into construction and design of one of the most critical aspects of the project is still ongoing with no guarantee it is viable, despite a contrived but unsuccessful effort to arrange independent comfort that it is. No one should be surprised if financial and/or physical disaster results.

    This morning I was thinking about how this situation could possibly develop and how our current Premier had it right not that many years ago when he posed famously for the camera with others protesting Site C holding a large banner that proclaimed “Site C Sucks”. And within minutes on my Twitter feed another photo of him appeared. There he was, squatting down on the dock at the Vancouver heliport behind a sea otter that was happily munching on human food. The Premier’s message to the public? “It was my first @HarbourAirLtd flight in awhile – nice to share a quick snack before heading to the otter side of the Salish Sea.”

    It may seem like a small thing, but I believe this illustrates the lack of judgement that can lead to trouble, whether it concerns a PR faux pas or a multi-billion dollar debacle. He has to know that whether it was actually his food being shared or not, he said it was and since feeding wild sea otters is illegal he will take some flack for it. But he couldn’t resist.

    I’ve said that he handles the easy things well, but the hard things are another matter. I’m starting to doubt the first part of my premise.

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    • I note that the venue for the Premier’s snack sharing was actually the seaplane dock in Victoria, and his guest may have been a River Otter. Which doesn’t change the inadvisability of his photo op and his failure to recognize an unforced error.

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  5. “Site C budget is $16 billion”

    I think it’s important to remember that $1 billion = 1,000 x $1 million.

    So Site C is budgeted for 16 thousand million dollars. Ouch.

    How are we supposed to pay for that?

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    • By selling electricity to natural gas producers and LNG processors for about 40% of the cost of Site C power?

      Oh wait, that won’t work.

      Instead, they’ll just raise electricity rates for residential and small business consumers.

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  6. If the province had not gone ahead building Site C we could have an ambulance and paramedic on every street corner. we could have had affordable housing for working families, we could have increased welfare and disability rates, hey we could even have had that $10 a day child care. The people who work at Site C could have all worked closer to home and the province could have been much better off.

    So people in government and previous governments, hi their B.C. Lieberals,, was it worth it. do remember we had 700 people die during our little heat wave there a week ago or so.

    Just wonder what is going to happen when that dam dam fails and the water is let loose.

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  7. Hugh, nice to see $16 billion put in to terms which are much more real.

    How are we going to pay for it? easy you, me, paramedics, teachers, kids with out day care, people with out decent places to live, schools, educations, etc.

    What is really going to hurt is if interest rates go up. I do remember signing a mortgage for $3.5M at 19 1/2% once for our co-op. At that time interest on that was running $50K a month so if we multiply that out on $16B. O.K. I failed math 11 can some one take over here on the interest rates. But you get the drift. its going to cost a bundle.

    We don’t have much of an alternative to vote for in this province. To vote for the B.C. Lieberals won’t work so we are stuck with this messy mistake which is going to cost a bundle.

    Now if any one in government is listening/reading, all they really have to do is say they have found new geo information and in an abundance of caution will discontinue building the dam dam or they can “decide” to honour the wishes of the Indigenous People in the area and in the spirit of reconciliation go no further with the dam dam. They could even blame the B.C. Lieberals for providing incorrect information and then fire all of B.C. Hydro’s executives. You know its a start. find a good story which the press will buy into and off we go, no dam, save some trees and wild life and we can save a huge amount of money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BC Hydro has not applied to the BCUC for permission to charge customers for the dam, and for the preferred method of payment. They won’t do that until the dam is finished or the Government has the wherewithall to stop it. What they have proposed during hearings into Site C, is to inflict a repayment term of 70 years, their effort to smooth out the rate increases due to the cost.

      If the interest rate stays low over that period, say 5%, and if the dam gets built, and if it gets built for 18 Billion, which is probably low, interest payments alone will be $900,000,000/year. Nine hundred million per year, for a total of 63,000,000,000. over the 70 years. If interest rates climb back up and reach an average of even 15%, we will be paying 200 Billion dollars over those 70 years, including the principle.

      But to assuage all fear, Hydro assured us that they didn’t think that would happen, and that even if it did we can discount those costs in our calculations, so that people will hardly notice.

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  8. So far, Marc Elison has been right, and that trend will continue. I think we would be fine for future electricity even without Site C. Why build this thing despite all the warnings, costs and disregard for First Nations Treaties. Because it is being built on lies. It’s totally for special interests. First Nations have and are being manipulated by a well oiled government manipulating machine. Horgan and the BC Liberal NDP and even on the Federal government levels are only interested in First Nations interests when it suites their own interests.

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