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Letter: We are paying the price for Metro Vancouver's risky contracts

This is not the first time we’ve had a total contract failure
The North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project has a long and troubled history. | Rob Kruyt / BIV

Dear Editor:

I am a retired former professional engineer, having been team leader for the design of tunnels and wastewater treatment plants. Metro Vancouver has now suffered two complete contract failures on the North Shore, as a consequence of poor risk management - the Seymour-Capilano Twin Tunnels and the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Metro Vancouver contracts place all the project risk on the contractor. This leads to the selection of the contractor that has the greatest risk tolerance rather than the most competent contractor. For the contractor, the risk is purely financial. But for the community, the risk of a project going wrong has both financial and other consequences, such a delay in service provision.

In the case of the twin water tunnels, the geotechnical problems led to the contractor abandoning the project and Metro Vancouver then had to incur the delay and additional cost of procuring a second contractor to complete the project. These additional costs were borne by all municipalities.

In the case of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant, I understand that the process risk was placed on the contractor, which produced a proprietary design. Having fired the contractor, it is now very difficult to find contractor willing to take on the risk of the first contractor’s design. Had Metro Vancouver commissioned a consulting engineer to design the plant and invited bids for its construction, the final price would have been much more certain. The design could have also optimized the long-term operating cost rather than the initial capital cost.

North Shore residents are now being asked to pay the additional costs of delay and the costs of mobilizing a second contractor to complete the work.

I suggest that Metro Vancouver needs to re-evaluate its engineering procurement processes.

Ian Rose-Innes

North Vancouver