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Poo plant politics: Metro leaders debate shocking North Shore price tag

Would you spare a couple cups of coffee to pay for North Shore poop? Regional politicians try to sort out the bill for over-budget wastewater treatment plant.
Lisa Muri suggests every Metro Vancouver household pay into the $2.8-billion cost overrun of the North Shore wastewater treatment plant.

“For a cost less than a cup of coffee,” (each month and for the next 15 years) Metro Vancouver residents can help their brethren on the North Shore pay for an extraordinary $2.8-billion cost overrun for their new wastewater treatment plant.

That’s how Metro Vancouver director Lisa Muri, councillor for the District of North Vancouver, framed her pitch to the regional government’s board on Friday, to convince her political neighbours that everyone ought to contribute equally for the new $3.9-billion plant, to which the original price tag was $800 million.

Unfortunately, Metro Vancouver politicians couldn’t seem to come to a consensus on Friday as to how to their residents will foot the bill and will now require a third meeting — for which they are paid $525 per meeting.

The board had held a special budget meeting April 17 to look at the budget quagmire and directed CAO Jerry Dobrovolny to come up with options for the added tax measures, including those that could spread the burden more equitably across the region. Dobrovolny needs direction through the summer to craft the 2025 budget, which requires an additional $190 million per year, no matter which way the costs are sliced.

On Friday, the board came together again and Dobrovolny outlined some alternatives; however, the board decided to hold another special meeting on May 31, directing Dobrovolny to table an arrangement that could push back costs by one year.

As it stands, North Shore households represent just seven per cent of the region’s population but given existing bylaws dictate local infrastructure projects largely be paid by local area users, they are on the hook for 46 per cent of the cost increase.

And so, North Shore households are poised to pay, on average, $725 per year for the next 30 years, with more modest contributions from their neighbours over the next 15 years — $140 from Vancouver, $70 from Richmond and $80 from the “Fraser” area, such as Burnaby, New Westminster, the Tri-Cities and Surrey.

Muri tabled a motion to have the North Shore’s bill reduced to $185 per year with Vancouver paying $180, Richmond paying $110 and Fraser paying $120.

Muri calculated this will cost each household $40 each year, or $3.33 per month. 

At issue is the fact local areas have historically paid for local infrastructure and there is a perception some residents would be footing multiple bills, having not received assistance from North Shore residents in the past.

But, argued Muri, “this is a Metro project driven by the need to clean up our environment, which we all benefit from.”

Muri choked up in framing her pitch as one that strengthens “the federation” of regional municipalities.

“We look to the leaders around this table, our neighbours... and ask that you support us at this very difficult time knowing that our predecessors who created this body recognized that we were stronger together than apart. I wear my regional hat proudly and will continue to stand beside you today and into the future, as I'm sure these stormy days are not behind us. So I ask you, who's going to buy us a cup of coffee?” asked Muri.

City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan echoed Muri.

“We’re talking about $3.33 per month,” said Buchanan.

“We are a federation. We hear often that we sit with our regional hats on and we support others with their challenges. So the North Shore is asking for your support,” said Buchanan.

Muri and her North Shore partners appear to have caught the ear of the majority of the board after tabling a motion to direct staff to prepare the 2025 budget in accordance with the more equitable payment option.

However, the arrangement was referred to the new May 31 meeting in a weighted vote of 76 in favour and 69 opposed.

Among those who expressed opposition were politicians from the Fraser area, including Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal, Delta councillor Dylan Kruger and Anmore mayor John McEwan.

“Obviously, we all are very sympathetic to what the costs are projected,” said Dhaliwal, raising concern about how future projects, such as the planned $10-billion Iona Island wastewater treatment plant, will have their costs apportioned.

“I would suggest that the board stays with the existing allocation mechanism — the least interruptive there is,” added Dhaliwal.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie noted Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart previously raised the point that North Shore municipalities voted against a single sewage payment system for the region in the 1990s, saddling Surrey, Delta and Richmond with payments for the Annacis and Lulu Island plants, which were completed by 1996 for $464 million and $132 million, respectively.

The Iona Island plant is to serve Vancouver residents and Vancouver directors voted in favour of the more equitable option for the North Shore.

“I certainly would hope that if we found ourselves in a similar circumstance with another project, north of the Fraser, south of the Fraser, that there would be equal consideration,” said Vancouver councillor Lisa Dominato.

It remains unclear exactly why the North Shore plant costs have escalated so much as Dobrovolny has yet to release line items on it and there’s been no indication calls will be answered for an outside auditor to look at what Muri describes as “the largest cost overrun in B.C.’s history.”

Board spending reaches record levels

As it relates to stewarding tax dollars, the board of directors spent over $227,000 on board and committee expenses in 2023, well above the $139,042 spent in 2019 and $115,876 in 2018, according to newly published 2023 expense record.

Topping the list was vice-chair John McEwan with expenses of $49,238.58 on trips to Ottawa to lobby for funding, Australia to attend the Asia Pacific Cities Summit and Ireland to attend the United Cities and Local Government Culture Summit.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West spent $33,247 on similar but fewer trips than McEwan.

West and McEwan’s airfare to Australia cost roughly $10,000 each, and airfare to Ireland cost over $7,300. Three nights in an Ottawa hotel cost $2,290.51 each.

Outgoing chair George Harvie spent $31,937.51 in 2023, including $17,336.50 on airfare to Australia.

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