Will the sewage-treatment project go over budget?

Will the sewage-treatment project go over budget?

22 Feb 2017 Times Colonist by Dr Shaun Peck

The taxpayer should be greatly concerned that the sewage treatment project will go over budget, as so many megaprojects do around the world.

The chair of the Capital Regional District’s sewageproject board, Jane Bird, recently reported to the Core Area Liquid Waste Management Committee on the progress in planning for increased sewage treatment for the core-area municipalities of Victoria.

On Monday evening, Esquimalt council approved in a third reading the required rezoning with all the incentives attached ($17 million plus $55,000 per year for amenities). The project board plans to sign a contract with Harbor Resource Partners to start construction of a sewage treatment plant at McLoughlin Point.

It was good to hear Bird state that the board was “keeping a fairly keen eye on the budget.” The present budget includes $385 million for the McLoughlin Point construction, $192 million for the collection and conveyance system and $188 million for the sludge-treatment plant at the Hartland landfill for a total of $765 million.

Interestingly, the project board has approved a $78.5-million budget for the project management office for the years 2016 to 2021 that they say is included in the $765 million. I found it extraordinary that the CRD directors were more concerned about the remuneration paid to the chairperson than this amazing cost of the management office.

There have been many changes in the business case that was presented by the project board in September last year. The biocell sewage-sludge treatment plant at the Hartland landfill, where the remaining sludge was to be stored until an integrated-resource management facility was built, was rejected by the province.

The project board’s reduced capital cost of $765 million counted on big savings from this proposed sludge biocell at the Hartland landfill. Now the province has required the project board to “develop a definitive plan for the beneficial use of biosolids that does not incorporate multi-year storage of biosolids within a biocell.” Therefore, the planned savings of about $100 million will likely evaporate.

With higher costs because of plan changes and inflation, how much will this project go overbudget? Will it be as much as the Johnson Street Bridge project’s current 67 per cent over original budget? Keep in mind that the sewage-treatment project is 10 times the expected total cost of the new bridge.

What the taxpayer should worry about is that once a contract is signed and construction started, it will be an irreversible decision. Of great concern is that the project board has a budget for the pipeline from Clover Point to McLoughlin Point that is not yet fully costed. There might be some savings here if an underwater route is chosen rather than along the James Bay waterfront. The full cost of the sludge-treatment plant (biosolids) at the Hartland landfill is not known because the bids to build it have not been submitted.

The taxpayers should be very concerned that the project board is driving this project to a point of no return. Once the contract for McLoughlin Point is signed, it will either be “a bridge to nowhere” or it will potentially result in increasing costs borne by the local taxpayer for the pipelines and the sludge-treatment plant of this megaproject — a project that the best evidence has shown is not needed.

The CRD could challenge the federal “one size fits all” sewage treatment legislation. The input of local, highly credible marine scientists who have published scientific evidence and evaluation of the present practice would be available for the CRD to challenge the poorly drafted federal regulation.

Victoria’s two deep-sea outfalls, which discharge the screened effluent more than a kilometre from shore and 60 metres below the ocean surface, are effective. Detailed monitoring reveals a consistent, minimal impact on the flora and fauna of the nearby ocean floor and water column. The effluent plume cannot be detected beyond 200 metres from the end of the discharge diffusers.

We must continue to be skeptical about the present plans that will place a huge burden on the taxpayer and do not take into account the best science.

The taxpayer should be very wary that this megaproject will go way over the current published budget. If the project does go ahead, a potential way of having it stay within budget is for the remuneration of the board members and the project management office to be tied to staying within the budget.

Dr. Shaun Peck was the Medical Health Officer for the CRD from 1989 to 1995.

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