In September 2013, at a celebratory affair in London, England, Astaldi S.p.A. was given “limited notice to proceed” with construction of the intake, powerhouse, spillway and transition dams for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric power plant. Contracts were signed in November.
A handful of key players from Nalcor Energy’s project team were there for the meeting across the pond, including — according to one of the participating manager’s notes, among the documents entered as exhibits at the Muskrat Falls inquiry — commercial manager Lance Clarke, general project manager responsible for generation Ron Power, project manager Paul Harrington, vice-president Gilbert Bennett and then-Nalcor president and CEO Ed Martin. Quebec-based Astaldi Canada would lead construction in Labrador, so CEO Emmanuel Triassi was on hand. But representatives from parent company Astaldi S.p.A. were also present, including (but not limited to) Mario Lanciani, Guido Venturini and Stefano Cerri (the latter would leave the post of Astaldi S.p.A. CEO in 2016).
It wasn’t the first international meeting for members of the Nalcor Energy project team, and wouldn’t be the last. In handling the contract with Astaldi, the team ended up in regular meetings abroad, in different locales — from a luxury hotel in London, to a members-only club in Manhattan.
There was a meeting at Astaldi’s offices in Rome in mid-February 2014, just a few months after the contract package was awarded. Representatives from Nalcor Energy’s team there included Harrington, Clarke and Power.
Harrington’s notes on “key meetings” show that, time and again, as the project struggled to recover ground on dam construction, all roads would lead to Rome. He returned there with Clarke and Power in June 2014, this time accompanied by Martin. A meeting was held with Astaldi representatives at a Marriott Hotel (there are several in the ancient city, and the exact one isn’t known to The Telegram).
A team from Nalcor Energy was back in Rome again roughly four months later, in October 2014. Again, the party included Harrington, Clarke and Power. The issues discussed included the “integrated cover system” (ICS) meant to shelter the powerhouse work site, later scrapped; work on the spillway and Astaldi’s inability to meet agreed plans for progress on concrete pouring.
The next month, on Nov. 4, 2014, there was a meeting at London’s Oxford and Cambridge Club. It’s members only there, but guests can be brought in by members (membership to the club requires support from two existing members, one as a nominee and one as a seconder). Harrington, Clarke and Power were joined by Bennett and Martin for that meeting.
Before the end of that month, on Nov. 25, 2014, another meeting was held in London with Astaldi representatives. This time it was at the Sofitel London Heathrow, a luxury hotel connected to Heathrow’s Terminal 5. The hotel has meeting concierges and 45 different meeting rooms — most named for international locations. The meeting could have been in the “Rome” room, but the exact location isn’t known. Harrington, Clarke and Power were Nalcor’s representatives, according to notes kept by Harrington.
Astaldi leaders were again asked to address schedule delays and what Nalcor deemed an unacceptable rate of progress. There was a request for Nalcor to release Bill Knox and Roy Collier, to allow the two managers to take the reins of Astaldi’s on-site construction management. It was approved.
In December 2014, the meeting place was the Princeton Club in New York City, a members-only club in Manhattan where guests can be invited in by members. The agenda at this meeting included continued schedule delays on the build in Labrador. This time, Martin joined Harrington, Clarke and Power.
Astaldi had a team of senior representatives fly to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and travel to the nearby Muskrat Falls construction site in March 2015. There was a meeting in a conference room in the on-site administration building – a far cry from the exclusive locations in London and New York.
Apart from face-to-face sessions, there were daily calls with Rome noted around this time. And there were further meetings.
In October 2018, while dealing with financial concerns, Astaldi was dismissed from the project and its workers ordered off the construction site. Pennecon has since taken over the work remaining on the contract package.
In general, international travel has not been unusual for Nalcor Energy’s Muskrat Falls project team. As The Telegram reported early in the contracting and construction process, suppliers for essential elements of the project are few and procurement required travel as part of due diligence and quality control efforts at manufacturing sites. In 2014, pieces of Muskrat Falls were being built at sites in the United States, China, India, Italy, Norway, Austria, Turkey, Mexico, Japan and Bahrain.