Yukon government ignored Whitehorse airport apron permafrost warnings

On Tuesday, December 2nd, Yukon NDP Highways and Public Works Critic Lois Moorcroft asked a question about allegations that the Yukon Party government ignored warnings that repairs to the Whitehorse airport apron didn't address permafrost-related problems:

Lois Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, last week when I raised questions about the project to replace the Whitehorse International Airport runway apron panels, the minister acknowledged that there were problems. When I asked who was responsible, the minister blamed the contractor for the deficiencies.

It has come to our attention that early in the project, the contractor told the Government of Yukon that ground and sub-base conditions, including seasonal permafrost underneath the apron, could cause problems. The contractor halted work because they were concerned that the ground would shift and crack the panels after the project was finished. After raising these concerns to the government and giving them an opportunity to correct them, the government told the contractor to go ahead with the work regardless.

Mr. Speaker, why did the Government of Yukon tell the contractor to continue pouring concrete for the runway apron panels even after the contractor had raised concerns about the ground conditions and the sub-base?

Minister of Highways and Public Works Scott Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

As with most of the projects that we undertake, it’s not unusual for there to be deficiencies on them and it is common practice for the Yukon government to work with contractors to remedy those deficiencies at the end of the project. As part of our fiscal responsibility to the territory, contracting and procurement decisions and actions are made as appropriate to the circumstances. As I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions, we are in negotiations with the bonding company right now to determine how best to address the deficiencies. Once those discussions are concluded, we will determine how best to fix the deficiencies.

Just as a point of clarification from yesterday, after meeting with HPW officials, it was brought to my attention that there actually is no Transport Canada report on the panel project, as suggested by the Member for Copperbelt South, so I would look for further clarification from her with respect to that particular issue. I just wanted to bring that to the attention of the House.

Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister why the government would not address deficiencies before, rather than after, the fact. The issues with the ground conditions underneath the panels were made clear to the government. In fact, the last time the apron panels were replaced, a different contractor raised these exact same concerns.

The current contractor stopped the project and told the government that they were not confident that the sub-base would be stable enough to pour the concrete apron panels on. Because of his concerns, the contractor said that the Yukon government had provided him a warranty disclaimer to protect him from liability. Knowing this, the government decided to go ahead with the project, and now they are trying to hang it on the contractor.

Mr. Speaker, why did the department go ahead with work that they knew could be deficient, against the recommendations of the contractor working on the ground?

Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. As a government, we rely on the expertise of those officials who work, in this case, within our Transportation Engineering branch to work with the contractors, as I mentioned, with respect to the deficiencies on the panel project at the airport. We’re in negotiations with the bonding company right now to determine how best to address those deficiencies. Once those discussions are concluded, we’ll determine how best to fix them. Again, this is a process that’s put in place so that we can come to a fair and balanced conclusion with the contracting community. It has happened in other cases on other projects, and this is the process that’s determined.

Again, the officials who are in the Transportation Engineering branch — I have full confidence in the work they do on a day-to-day basis on behalf of Yukon taxpayers, and Mr. Speaker, that’s who we’re looking out for — Yukon taxpayers — when it comes to the investments we make in these projects to ensure that, if the deficiencies are not our responsibility, the appropriate party pays for those deficiencies.

Moorcroft: Mr. Speaker, this wasn’t just another case of a capital project mismanagement that we have come to expect from this government. It’s a case of the government being told the runway apron panel project would be deficient, and then telling the contractor to do it anyway. What is apparent is that the government should have addressed the problem when it was identified and should not have pushed the contractor to go ahead.

Now we have a runway apron that is deficient due to ground conditions, and below the concrete apron itself. The ground issues must be addressed before the runway apron can be fixed, but it is sitting underneath nearly two feet of poured concrete.

Mr. Speaker, why does this government wait to address deficiencies in the airport runway apron panels that the contractor was told to complete when they had highlighted their concerns about the stability of the ground?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. As I mentioned previously, we have professional public servants who monitor these projects for us. We have professional engineers within the Transportation Engineering branch who put together these tenders and monitor these tenders. Sometimes there are third-party contractors that are hired to project-manage for us as well.

Again, as I mentioned, we are in negotiations with the bonding company right now to determine how best to address those deficiencies. Once those discussions are concluded, we’ll determine how best to fix the deficiencies. Again, just to follow up, perhaps we’ll have an opportunity later on today in Highways and Public Works debate for the member opposite to clarify which Transport Canada report she has been referring to for the past couple of Question Periods when she has raised this issue. According to my officials, there is no report that exists on the panel project.


Photo: madmack / flickr. Used under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.