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Task force to examine ballooning costs of North Shore sewage treatment plant

North Van and West Van taxpayers could be on the hook for a large portion of the project cost overruns

The Metro Vancouver regional government is striking a task force to review options for completing the new North Shore sewage treatment plant in the wake of ballooning costs that could put huge pressures on North and West Vancouver taxpayers.

Metro Vancouver board chair George Harvie announced the task force Friday.

“This project has experienced extraordinary circumstances that have come at an unfortunate time of extreme market volatility for Canada,” Harvey said in a statement. He added the task force will review options for completing the plant “while mitigating its potential cost impacts on the region.”

So far, Metro Vancouver has not revealed the latest cost estimates for the wastewater treatment plant, which has been mired in controversy and lawsuits after Metro Vancouver terminated the design-build contract of its original contractor, Acciona, in the fall of 2021.

The most recent estimate for construction costs put the cost of building the plant at more than $1 billion.

Sources recently suggested to Glacier Media that the true cost estimates could now be sitting at up to quadruple that figure.

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little said he couldn’t comment on that figure, as all the most recent budget information about the construction cost is still in camera.

“All I can say is the current budget that’s on the books is not accurate. It’s not up to date,” he said.

Skyrocketing costs concerning for North Shore

But Little acknowledged the skyrocketing cost estimates are cause for concern, especially as North Shore taxpayers are expected to bear the biggest brunt of the costs for the new sewage plant.

Little said while Metro Vancouver has overseen the project, which was required in response to federal government environmental laws, the North Shore still faces the largest potential financial penalty for the cost overruns. “It would represent a significant amount of taxation to North Shore residents,” he said.

Little said North Shore politicians will likely have to make a case to regional, provincial and federal governments for more financial support “because it’s just going to be too much for us to be able to bear.”

Currently, the new contractors hired by Metro to figure out how to complete the sewage plant are still addressing the more than 1,200 deficiencies identified in the project left by Acciona, said Little.

“That is a big problem,” he said. “The bigger problem is we’re this far in and the project is only 80 per cent designed.”

Little cited examples including designs that had yet to figure out how a pipe would go from one side of a building to another and weight-bearing walls with huge holes cut into them for pipes to pass through.

The North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant will provide tertiary treatment, exceeding federal regulatory requirements for secondary treatment technology, for 250,000 residents and businesses on the North Shore.

Harvie said completion of the new treatment plant is also needed to accommodate the significant population growth and new housing being requested by the federal government.

According to a press statement, the new Metro task force will present the board with options to consider in relation to the treatment plant construction “over the coming months.”

Problem-plagued plant

The wastewater treatment plant has long been plagued with problems.

After the contract fight broke out between Metro Vancouver and its original contractor Acciona in the fall of 2021, the regional government hired PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. in February of 2022 to jump start construction on the stalled wastewater treatment plant.

But subsequent reports on the project identified “more extensive deficiencies than originally anticipated,” according to Metro.

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