Military bases across the country – including the base in Edmonton – are facing crumbling infrastructure that risks the health and safety of workers, says a new report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson.
Planning and funding problems on Canada’s 21 main military bases are affecting workers and long-term progress, Ferguson reported last week. But Fraser Logan, public affairs officer at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton, said he has no concerns about the infrastructure on the base.
“The buildings that we have that house all of our front-line soldiers – the brigade soldiers – they’re no more than 15 years old,” he said. “If there is any shortfall, it’s mainly because we got brand new equipment for Afghanistan … and we were going to look at making sure we had the proper infrastructure after the fact.”
The report singled out CFB Edmonton, noting it received 44 battle tanks and armoured recovery tanks in March 2012, but due to poor planning and funding, facilities to house the equipment will not be ready until at least 2016.
Instead, these vehicles are stored in a garage that is not equipped with proper exhaust and ventilation systems, so bay doors must remain open even in winter weather conditions, the report says.
The report also notes that workers could suffer permanent hearing damage from the noise levels in the garage and could face further dangers because no barrier exists between engines and workers.
“Should there be a catastrophic failure of engine components, projectiles and hot engine fluids could pose a serious hazard to nearby workers,” the report says.
“It’s not the best situation, but it’s adequate,” Logan said, adding safety of soldiers is paramount. “Had we waited for brand new infrastructure … this would have been a loss of training and possibly, a loss of lives.”
He said the base is currently looking at recommendations to construct a new facility to house the tanks or to perform extensive rehabilitation to an existing facility.
Canadian Forces infrastructure includes roughly 20,000 buildings consisting of armories, barracks, storage facilities and maintenance facilities, and more than 13,000 works consisting of roads, sewers, airfields and firing ranges.
“This infrastructure provides critical support to operations. It is used to sustain military personnel, provide training facilities, store and protect essential material and, deploy forces,” the report says.
It found, however, that infrastructure is deteriorating, as many bases lack preventative maintenance programs – 10 of the 21 bases reported not having such a program, while four admitted to focusing on maintenance after breakdowns.
Several bases reported that preventative maintenance programs ended in the mid-1990s resulting from financial cutbacks. Since that time, the condition of infrastructure has steadily declined, the report says.
Roughly 43 per cent of non-residential buildings and roughly 61 per cent of works are more than 50 years old.
CFB Edmonton has a preventative maintenance program in that it has a system of checks and balances to identify and report deficiencies, Logan said.
“If a deficiency, be it safety or otherwise, is observed, that’s brought up through the chain of command,” Logan said. “There’s a budget to maintain the infrastructure (and) there’s budgets to build brand new infrastructure.”
CFB Edmonton was unable to provide the budget amounts by press time.
In 2010, the government committed $40 billion over 20 years to maintain infrastructure. In 2010-11, the department spent roughly $189 million on maintenance and repairs.
The report made a dozen recommendations to the department including establishing a strategy and framework for infrastructure management, improving accuracy of maintenance cost estimates and implementing a health and safety compliance program. The department accepted all recommendations.