Nik Argirov, a lead member of the team under MWH Canada, and independent engineer on the Muskrat Falls project, told the Muskrat Falls Inquiry on Tuesday he didn’t interact with anyone representing the provincial government before the project’s financial close in 2013.
The federal government’s legal counsel posed questions to him and others at times — about construction plans, processes and budgeting — and he provided the federal government with project reports, he testified.
Yet, responding to questions from inquiry co-counsel Barry Learmonth, Argirov said there were no questions or requests from the provincial government before the province signed financial agreements.
At the same time, he noted, the province was not the client of MWH (a company he worked directly for and later subcontracted to). The independent engineer served the Government of Canada.
Learmonth posed multiple questions to Argirov about the period before financial close in 2013. He asked if the engineer had any communication at the time with bureaucrats or elected politicians from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador before close, on Nov. 29, 2013.
“No,” Argirov replied.
Learmonth asked if anyone from the provincial government had contacted him, asking for reports or just general commentary on Nalcor Energy’s work since the sanctioning of the megaproject in 2012.
“No. Never,” he said.
Was he ever asked to share even his scope of work, what information he was gathering?
“No,” he said.
As The Telegram reported in early 2014, it doesn’t match with the description provided in the House of Assembly, including in the spring of 2013.
"The independent engineer will make sure on behalf of the people of the province and on behalf of the government of the province that this project proceeds in a robust, fair, economically feasible and fiscally feasible manner," then-minister Tom Marshall said.
Argirov testified he never even met provincial bureaucrat Charles Bown, considered a project go-to, until “2016 or 2017,” after the provincial government — at Marshall’s prompting — had established a project oversight committee, in the face of cost overruns.
Argirov repeated that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador was not the client of the independent engineer.
Describing the work of the independent engineer, he said it was “high-level overview,” keeping tabs and assuring best industry practices are referred to during construction.
A detailed review of the project’s costs and schedule were not a part of his work, he said.
Among other things, he described the slow start for Astaldi Canada on its contract work at Muskrat Falls and the “integrated cover system” that was torn down before it was finished. Argirov testified he thought that decision was appropriate, as the timing of the construction was off and “the dome” was going to interfere with summer construction.
Argirov mentioned his site visits, factory visits, his review of Nalcor monthly reports and meetings with Nalcor’s project team members.
He described being told at one point a cost increase was expected on the project, but with no detail, and no numbers. He spoke about what he considered a lack of disclosure by Nalcor Energy, challenging his work.
He was later challenged on the issue of disclosure by Nalcor Energy lawyer Dan Simmons, while documents in evidence show a formal agreement was struck, issuing specific “reporting requirements” for Nalcor Energy in November 2015.
On reporting, Argirov was referred to pages where Nalcor Energy’s project team members were suggesting edits to the independent engineer’s reports. He said review of draft reports was not unusual.
“It’s mainly on a factual side that we want to get confirmation,” he said. A contractor always has the option to reject suggested edits, he added.
He was asked specifically if he was ever pressured to edit reports to make them sound more favourable for Nalcor Energy.
“Not at all,” he said.
Argirov’s testimony was planned for only one day, but ran over time. Commissioner Richard LeBlanc said proceedings will start at 9 a.m. NT Wednesday, and questions for Argirov will be finished, before the next inquiry witness is called.