The former earthworks and dam construction director at Site C is suing the main civil works contractor for breach of contract.
Kent Peyton’s Oct. 4-filed B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit against Petrowest Corp. and Peace River Hydro Partners offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the troubled $9 billion dam project, which the NDP government could decide to mothball or kill next month.
“Shortly after work commenced on the Site C project, it became apparent that various project components, including the dam, were over budget and behind schedule,” Peyton’s statement of claim says. “In an effort to get construction of the dam on schedule and on budget, Petrowest, on its own behalf or on behalf of PRHP, decided to hire a new earthworks and dam construction director.”
Peyton claims he was lured away from his job of nine years at Flatiron Group, where he was senior vice-president of operations for Canada and vice-president of major projects for North America. The court document below says he accepted a job offer late last November, but negotiated terms and conditions until mid-January of this year. The claim says no written contract exists, but a written secondment agreement does. It spells out Peyton’s salary, benefits and vacation pay through 2021. It did not include a termination clause, but four-and-a-half years remained on Peyton’s term when he was fired in June.
Peyton’s starting base salary was $480,000-a-year, rising annually to $610,727.04 in 2021. His package included an annual $100,000 bonus, $150,000 project uplift, $115,000 housing allowance and $9,000 travel allowance, plus a company car lease. The five-year deal was worth more than $4.6 million.
“Mr. Peyton had ultimate responsibility for the construction of the dam, including responsibility for all high-level decision-making related to the dam’s excavation process,” the court filing says. “In the position, he was also responsible for the health and safety of all workers engaged in dam construction.
“Mr. Peyton faithfully and diligently performed his duties on behalf of the employer and throughout his employment, provided to be a valuable and reliable employee.”
The lawsuit keyed-in on right bank cofferdam excavation delays that predated Peyton’s hiring. It says Peyton found the instructions to workers by construction superintendent Paul Merrithew and/or project director Louis Brais were dangerous and likely to lead to a workplace safety incident. It alleges that a watertight pit was severely overcrowded with workers and heavy equipment. Access roads into the watertight pit were allegedly up to 20% steeper than permitted.
Peyton claims he told Merrithew that certain crews and equipment needed to be moved to an adjacent worksite to safeguard their health and safety. Merrithew disagreed and allegedly started an altercation with Peyton on May 10, using abusive language towards Peyton in front of other workers.
“Mr. Merrithew then accused Mr. Peyton of striking him, which allegation Mr. Peyton categorically denies.”
Brais was not on-scene, the document says.
Two days later, on May 12, Petrowest CEO Rick Quigley banned Peyton from the site indefinitely. Peyton claims he had been asked for a statement about the incident, but the lawsuit says Petrowest did not want to know anything about what preceded the incident.
Peyton was finally fired June 20.
Veronica Rossos of Singleton Urquhart filed the lawsuit for breach of a fixed term contract and seeks various damages.
None of the allegations has been proven in court. The defendants have yet to file a defence statement.
Petrowest went into receivership in August. On Oct. 4, BC Hydro president Chris O’Riley revealed in a letter to the B.C. Utilities Commission that PRHP told BC Hydro on Sept. 27 that it won’t meet the 2019 river diversion deadline, adding $610 million to the project’s costs. BCUC’s final report to cabinet on its accelerated inquiry is due Nov. 1.