Putting bums in seats

Compared to managing $160 million in capital projects, placing want ads to replace four empty board seats is comparatively easy. So it's unsettling to learn Yukon Energy Corp. has been too disorganized to hire new directors.

Compared to managing $160 million in capital projects, placing want ads to replace four empty board seats is comparatively easy.

So it’s unsettling to learn Yukon Energy Corp. has been too disorganized to hire new directors. For 210 days.

For those who follow the metric system, that’s seven months.

Seven. Months.

“We haven’t had ourselves organized to put them (job ads) out earlier,” David Morrison, the Crown corporation’s president said earlier this week.

The Crown corporation lost four board members on June 8. They quit to protest Premier Dennis Fentie’s backdoor privatization scheme.

Fentie neglected to tell the people responsible for running the utility, including then-minister Jim Kenyon, that he was negotiating a selloff of the utility to Alberta-based ATCO.

Chair Willard Phelps and three other board members had a problem with that. So they walked.

Since then, the place has been in a tizzy.

Kenyon was shuffled out, replaced by Fentie himself. That change was probably barely noticeable.

However, nervous about their jobs, the utility’s staff grew owly.

Amid all this confusion, the organization apparently couldn’t place simple job ads. This at a time it was supposed to be overseeing the largest, most complicated capital projects in recent Yukon history.

Are you nervous yet?

All board decisions have fallen to Watson Lake grocer Pat Irvin, the interim chair and Fentie loyalist, and three First Nation appointees.

Backstopped by Morrison, they have been steering a complicated $120-million adjunct to the Mayo dam that, thanks to federal stipulations, must be fast-tracked despite the fact it involves a $53.3-million bank loan and another weird, precedent-setting ownership/financing arrangement involving the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun.

As if that wasn’t enough to give ratepayers the sweats, this half-sized board must also shepherd the 172-kilometre-long Carmacks to Stewart Crossing transmission line to completion.

So far, that project is ridiculously overbudget.

In 2005, it was supposed to cost $32 million. Today, the completed line is estimated at $69.7 million.

It is being built in two phases.

The first leg of the line, the 106 kilometres from Carmacks to Pelly, was eventually finished for $29.7 million. And that’s still $1.8 million more than the revised “firm” cost estimate drafted in 2007.

Phase two, the 73 kilometres from Pelly to Stewart Crossing, is estimated at $40 million. (It is the cost of building this last section of the transmission line combined with the Mayo B project that makes up the utility’s oft-cited $160 million in capital costs.)

The Yukon has a long history of bungled and overly expensive power line projects.

As a point of comparison, consider the 232-kilometre-long Mayo-Dawson transmission line project begun by Pat Duncan’s Liberal government.

That project was initially supposed to cost $21.7 million, but was completed for $39.5 million, which included a $3-million legal settlement with Chant Construction to avoid a complicated trial that was to begin this year.

Federal auditor general Sheila Fraser investigated that project, describing it as an exercise in mismanagement. Duncan lost, er, power partly because of the transmission line debacle.

So people can be excused for being anxious as the hobbled board guides the $40-million, 73-kilometre-long Pelly to Stewart line to conclusion while simultaneously overseeing the complicated and hurried $120-million Mayo B project.

The anxiety is only heightened by Morrison’s troubling admission the utility hasn’t been capable of placing simple recruitment ads for seven months.

That, alone, suggests the board appointments need to be filled. It should fast-track that process to ensure proper oversight of these expensive, complicated projects.

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