Concrete rot hits Savoie ski resorts

Numerous buildings constructed since the spring of 2004 and some ski lifts may have to be rebuilt in the Maurienne valley’s ski areas due to defective concrete. The concrete becomes friable in the presence of humidity. The problem affects the foundations of a number of buildings as well as public works including road strengthening. The Savoie highways department is undertaking a thorough investigation of both roads and 13 ski lifts. The concrete was used in the valley from March to July 2004.

hauts de Valmeinier
Hauts de Valmeinier will be demolished

The problem first came to light in the spring of 2006 following controls in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. The concrete is of such a poor quality that it is possible to make a hole with just fingernails.

An inquiry has identified problems with concrete manufactured between April and July 2004 by Béton Rhone-Alpes (BRA), a member of the Vicat group. The product was manufactured at Saint-Jean and Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne using material from the future Lyon-Turin rail tunnel. The material contained high levels of a sulphate that expands on contact with water weakening the mix.

The ski resorts of Valmeinier and Valloire are said to be worst affected. In Valmeinier 170 apartments are currently off limits. The resort say that the 2nd stage of the luxury Hauts de Valmeinier and the 1st stage of the Grand Panorama will have to be completely demolished but claims that none of the resort’s ski lifts, covering 150km of runs, are affected and people can book in complete confidence that the resort will be fully open this winter. Both resorts grew their turn-over last year by 3-4% but this news will have an impact on their finances.

The Maurienne has expanded rapidly over the last five years with new ski lifts linking the les Sybelles ski area and a modernisation in the other resorts. The number of tourist beds has also increased from 75,000 to 125,000. Compensation claims are expected to run to many tens of millions of euros and will involve both Vicat and their insurers. Vicat shares have fallen by 13% % on the Paris stock exchange over the last 5 days.

Posted by davidof on Friday, 06 October, 2006 at 02:46 PM

This is extraordinary. Corners must have been cut in testing the mined material. Sulphates have been a concrete issue for decades and one of the principal targets of any geotesting process.

What a mess in the resorts! An insurance underwriters nightmare.

Posted by  on  Saturday, 07 October, 2006  at 01:08 PM

According to the French FR3 local news broadcast the foundations of 13 ski lifts may be affected. These are in the resorts of Saint-Sorlin, Val Fréjus, Saint-Jean d’Arves and La Toussuire. At la Toussuire, part of the les Sybelles ski area, samples have been taken from the foundations of the pylon of the Médaille d’Or chair lift for analysis.

Posted by davidof on  Monday, 09 October, 2006  at 01:58 PM

Five chair and eight drag lifts built between March and November 2004 in the ski resorts of La Toussuire, Saint-Sorlin, Val-Fréjus, Saint-Jean d’Arves and at Valmeinier have been now been checked by the authorities. A report made public yesterday says there are no problems with the concrete used in the foundations.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 13 October, 2006  at 09:48 AM

I can imagine that BRA/Vicat’s insurers have been contacted to compensate the owners of the buildings for the huge loss sustained. The whole thing could take ages (the insurers are known for going through their policy to try and find a clause enabling them not to pay). In case of dispute the building owners could end up suing BRA/Vicat and their insurers and here again, allowing for appeals, litigation could easily take between 5 and 8 years before the dispute is resolved.

Posted by  on  Friday, 13 October, 2006  at 10:08 AM

According to the local paper Le Dauphiné Libéré the Hauts de Valmeinier II was raided by looters over the weekend who stripped the building bare. This was prior to demolition work due to start this week.

Vicat have agreed to compensate everyone affected by the dodgy concrete. The control work on the 13 ski lifts which were possibly affected involved drilling 69 bore holes into the foundations. High levels of sulphate were found in some and more investigative work will be carried out. However the quality of the concrete is said to be very good and all the lifts will operate this winter.

Local MP Michel Bouvard has asked the French government for state aid for an advertising campaign to counter the bad news coming out of the valley in recent weeks. The Maurienne already benefitted from such aid in 1999 following the Mont Blanc tunnel fire when traffic was diverted through the valley to the Frejus tunnel.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 18 October, 2006  at 07:23 PM
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