CONTACT Lindsay Newland Bowker, Bowker Associates Science & Research In The Public Interest LNBowker@BowkerAssociates.org 207 367 5145
September 27, 2018
This is good news indeed to have this focus on a key aspect of the events leading to failure at Mt Polley..the AMEC team ‘s rejection of MEM’s insistence that the original slope be restored and the construction of the rock wall that was part of Knight Piesolds original plan be undertaken( as I recall..I am writing this from memory without re reference to all the original documents).
Knight Piesold the original designer of the center line plan for Mt Polley did not concur with the deviation in slope which resulted from the discovery that the material from the superficially vetted reopening plan had too much PAG material to provide for the original flatter more stable slope. Knight Piesold objected to continuing that slope and had raised issues about the stability of the dam insisting on a stability analysis.
Knight Piesold , as they had done at one other famous tailings failure resigned stating the clients refusal to follow the advice given.( I have and will excavate from my files the identical letters Knight Piesold wrote for both).The engineering services contract was awarded to AMEC a company with a formidable reputation for quality engineering and professional integrity including the celebrated and oft cited Todd Martin who is included in this professional conduct review.
AMEC, as I recall, was undergoing a huge global expansion at the time and issues were publicly raised about the “junior” caliber of the team they assigned to Mt Polley. The engineer in charge , per AMEC’s corporate action , Laura Fidel, is also a central figure in this disciplinary investigation which describes her as having no experience whatsoever in tailings design and management.
It is in the public interest that this decision is being reviewed as a matter of professional conduct in the context of a professional accreditation process that the public relies on for safety and soundness of all structures.
Engineering, like all professional services not only implies,but relies on,the training and experience to create innovation working from the established body of practice and study but going soundly beyond to new approaches addressing previously unsolvable problems. In mining, the role of the engineer , the experience and qualifications of the people focused on the specifics of each deposit is critical as no two deposits are alike in composition and setting. The experience and standard of conduct of the engineering team including, as Geoff Blight often emphasized, a thorough command of available technology and its appropriate use is the entire underpinning of “the public interest”. A name like “AMEC” and highly regarded frequently cited in tailings research engineer Todd Martin’s senior engineering position in that firm has great weight with regulators, with the public, and in the community of professional engineers globally.
What came from AMEC’s involvement,according to the documents referenced and presented in the Mt Polley panel report, was AMEC’s defense of Imperials disagreement with Knight Piesold even to the point of objecting to the measures MEM had recommended in the interests of safety..the construction of the full retaining wall and , the return of the slope to its original design .
The auditor general’s report maintains that MEM had authority it didn’t use to insist but without offering defense or excuse I can understand as a career public official and advisor a reluctance to challenge a company as venerable as AMEC with a senior engineer as famous and highly regarded as Todd Martin.
It was Jack Caldwell’s now obliterated discourse post failure that first publicly named the inferior quality of the team AMEC put in place.
The dam design was taken over by a British company that had no objective other than full time-sheets. BGC had raided AMEC years before of its competent tailings engineers, and AMEC youth were left naked and beholden to computer analyses and bereft of shovel-turning expertise. Many months before the failure, the joke at BC meetings was how BGC had gotten all the good tailings engineers from AMEC and how sad it was that the AMEC folk continued in honest attempts at what was not within their sphere of competence. ” Jack Caldwell
Jack wants engineering in mining to always be the best of what the profession of engineering is about. His bombastic commentary at the demolished “I Think Mining” was almost always about ways in which engineers let the profession down or ways in which corporate structure and policy made it impossible for engineers to do what’s right.
This investigation is critical to restoring public confidence in the entire system of mine approvals and oversight. It is truly shocking if AMEC in fact assigned an unqualified engineer as RE without adequate supervisory oversight and deeply troubling to have a name as venerable and as associated with tailings management standards as Todd Martin’s name is in a news headline like this but he does owe British Columbia and the world an explanation. This was a critically vulnerable time in the life of that already failing TSF. The entire AMEC supervisory structure in place at Mt Polley needs to be laid out and examined in detail. The refusal to follow MEM’s recommendations needs to be laid out and examined in the context of professional conduct and as importantly in the context of law & policy. Did MEM ever challenge Ms. Fidel’s qualifications or raise the issues of this investigation with AMEC?
I hope Jack gets no black marks for his commentary on the junior caliber AMEC assigned or on the absurd profile of the TSF as it was taken over by AMEC. Even a layman like me could see it was neither fish nor fowl in engineering design. Jack wants engineering to be what it should be in all situations. All engineers should want that and do that. The public interest relies on that.
The outcome that matters here isn’t what disciplinary action the famous and revered Todd Marin may face. What matters is a fuller explanation of how the system failed so that we can better understand what we need to do to fix it.
The larger issue here in my mind is the brain drain in mining globally. It is widely recognized that there simply aren’t enough properly trained and experienced engineers to manage the estimated 18,000 tailings facilities globally.
This disciplinary inquiry is ultimately about one of the most serious global issues in delivery of community of origin security and the security of environments surrounding mineral extraction & processing sites. In theory young engineers working under people of Todd Martins caliber and folk approved by him as supervisory should satisfy the public interest. How else do we expand the number of tailings experienced engineers?.
All professional services rely on internship and residency as a mode of professional training and development: one senior person passing skill and experience onto many new entrants. Ms. Fidels alleged lack of training and experience is not per se an issue if the supervision and oversight was there but at the same time anyone holding a title and performing services in accordance with that title must have the qualifications to perform those services and make decisions in the field.
It is important for future safety not to gloat and point fingers at those under investigation nor to just rejoice that someone is being held to account. If we are going to meet the very serious elevated risk at mineral extraction and processing sites around the world we must follow and listen to these proceedings with a view to understanding how we fix the mining brain drain and what qualifications standards must be in law and regulation.
Here are the actual Notices of Inquiry
**** Additional Links & Info****
Michael Davies, Todd Martin & AMEC challenging the Knight Piesold Requirement for a rockwall in 2007
The entity bringing the charges of negligence & professional misconduct describing the investigation that lead to this announcement on September 25,2018.
At this stage, the allegations have not been heard by a disciplinary panel and are unproven.
The investigation was led by a 3-person subcommittee of senior professionals from Engineers and Geoscientists BC’s Investigation Committee. During the course of its investigation, the subcommittee received more than 13,000 documents for review, including contracts, reports, correspondence, and daily site reports. In addition, it considered the reports resulting from other public investigations conducted by the Independent Expert Engineering Investigation and Review Panel and the Chief Inspector of Mines.
The British Columbia Engineer & Geoscientists Act under which the investigation was conducted and the hearings noticed to the three engineers at AMEC
Duties and objects of the association
(2)On receipt of the investigation committee’s recommendation under section 30 (9) or (10) for an inquiry, the discipline committee must cause an inquiry to be held before it by causing written notice of an inquiry to be personally served on the person who is the subject of the inquiry or, failing personal service, by leaving the notice at, or by mailing it by registered mail to, the person’s last address on file with the association.
(c)a statement that if the person who is the subject of the inquiry does not attend the inquiry, the discipline committee may proceed with the subject matter of the inquiry in that person’s absence and make findings of fact and its decision without further notice to that person.
(5)In the event of nonattendance of the person who is the subject of the inquiry, the discipline committee, on proof of service of the notice under subsection (2), which proof may be made by affidavit, may proceed with the subject matter of the inquiry in that person’s absence and make findings of fact and its decision without further notice to that person.
(6)The discipline committee, or any member of the discipline committee, may issue a subpoena for the attendance of a witness at an inquiry and for the production of records by the witness at the inquiry.
(7)Failure of a witness to attend or produce the required records makes the witness, on application by the association to the Supreme Court, liable to be committed for contempt as if in breach of an order or a judgment of the Supreme Court.