Because one of its engineers was sick, Hydro-Quebec didn’t bother to do a safety inspection of the biggest dyke in the LG-2 complex or any of its dams in the Abitibi region in 1996, according to a report obtained by The Nation.

Also, Hydro did virtually no maintenance or repairs on its dams in the Abitibi sector, even though the dams in this area are very old and require a lot of attention, the report says.

One of the dams, 75-year-old Rapides-des-Quinze, is leaky, has “numerous cracks” and could collapse at any moment.

“There is no doubt that in the near future, the concrete added (at Rapides-des-Quinze) in 1948 will lose its resistance and the stability of the dam will no longer be assured,” says the report, which is entitled, “Safe Exploitation of the Dams, 1996 Annual Report, La Grande River Region.”

The alarming information was deleted when Hydro-Quebec first sent us this report almost a year ago. At the time, Hydro also refused to send us its 1989 emergency plan for LG-2. We made an appeal to the Access to Information Commission, which was heard June 1 and 2.

Minutes before the hearing started, Hydro’s lawyer, Jocelyne Paquette, turned around and gave us a few of the deleted pages. We also got the table of contents for three emergency plans for the La Grande complex, but not the plans themselves. Paquette offered to release half of each plan if we dropped the case, but still wanted to keep the rest secret.

The offer was refused and the hearing went on as scheduled. There was only enough time to hear

half the case, so another hearing will be scheduled. The next available date is in November. The Commission’s decision will take another four to six months after that.

The report that Hydro tried to censor paints a disturbing picture: incomplete inspections, missing reports, lack of basic maintenance or vegetation control, and rickety dams. One evaluation report for a dam in the La Grande area “was not submitted by the engineer in charge of doing it. The report is lost for 1996.”

As for the Abitibi sector, which covers dams in the VaJ d’Or area, by far the worst problem is with the Rapide-des-Quinze dam just east of Notre-Dame-du-Nord. “The margin of security is extremely reduced,” says the report, which recommends a “complete reconstruction” of the outdated dam. Repair efforts haven’t worked so far, the report adds.

Paul Coulombe, mayor of Angliers, a town of 300 just upriver from the dam, says the problems are news to him.

“Hydro-Quebec said there was no problem with the dam,” he told The Nation. “I’ve never heard it was dangerous.” He said “minor repairs” are being done on the dam at the moment, but nothing like the total overhaul called for in the report.

Coulombe said no one lives below the dam and no lives would be at stake if there was a collapse, but the town’s drinking water could be affected.

The report says a “systematic statutory inspection of ail the dams of (the Abitibi)sector should have been done in 1996, which wasn’t the case. The engineer who had thisresponsibility fell ill and we couldn’t replace him.”