The chief driver of the Muskrat Falls project was accused by the Inquiry co-counsel today of abdicating his responsibility by not providing what he saw as crucial numbers to the provincial government.
Barry Learmonth said he’s bewildered at how then-Nalcor boss Ed Martin kept escalating cost estimates from government and the board of directors at the Crown corporation. However, Martin explained that the $7-billion floated in July 2013, four months before financial close, was an uncertain number.
Government was still working with the original estimate of $6.2-billion.
Learmonth said all others—including premiers, ministers and high-ranking public officials—were shocked that they didn’t know about the higher number, an increase of 12 per cent.
Learmonth says Martin should have gone straight to Confederation Building, taken off a copy for government, and given them an explanation. He says that way, government could have been in a position to make proper decisions.
Martin disagreed, saying he wanted to be sure of accuracy before delivering such a document.
Martin says he wasn’t sure if that was the right information, so government would not be in a position make the right decision.
The last time the main driver and architect of the Muskrat Falls project was on the stand at the inquiry, there were fireworks. Not so this time.
Ed Martin was called rude by Commissioner Richard LeBlanc just before Christmas, but all was polite this time.
Martin told co-counsel Barry Learmonth that he firmly believed at sanction in December 2012 that the project would cost $6.2-billion with first power in late 2017. Those estimates went way off the rails.
Even Nalcor’s chief financial officer was unaware that Nalcor was discussing higher costs, but Martin said that’s not unusual because contractors would take advantage with inflated bids.
He says the contracting community in St. John’s has the ability to find out such information unlike any other major market he has operated in.
He said that hiring Astaldi as the main contractor was the right decision at the time, even though they have since been fired from the project.
Martin also disagrees with others at Nalcor who have testified that they believed early on that the schedule and cost estimates for Muskrat were very aggressive.