Taxpayer costs rise for sewage plant

CRD rushed to meet a deadline for a funding amount that totalled less than five per cent of the total estimated project cost

On Sept. 14, CRD directors voted 14-1 to approve the CRD Project Board’s omnibus recommendation to go with a single sewage plant at McLoughlin Point in Esquimalt, with my vote as mayor of Saanich as the only dissenting vote.

While media releases pointed to a McLoughlin-based project that cost less than the one that was abandoned by Seaterra in 2014, the cost sharing formula lay hidden in plain sight on Page 5 of the report.

The cost share for CRD taxpayers has risen from $281 million in 2014 to $311 million, and this $30 million increase has raised our contribution to 40 per cent.

At stake, if we missed the Sept. 30 deadline: $83 million in P3 Canada funding. However, when the final report was delivered to CRD directors and their taxpayers, this funding had suddenly shrunk to $36 million.

In other words, we rushed to meet a deadline for a funding amount that totalled less than five per cent of the total estimated project cost.

Why had a draft business case already carved up the costs into CRD, provincial and federal funding contributions, with P3 Canada saving $47 million and CRD taxpayers on the hook for a further $30 million, even before CRD directors could negotiate this with senior governments?

Fundamentally, as elected officials, we are here to protect the taxpayer, and as mayor, I must question the project board’s preferred procurement approach to deliver the McLoughlin wastewater plant.

It has now been revealed that the project board has been working with a single company and plans to sole-source the McLoughlin wastewater plant in spite of the fact that the CRD had previously qualified three competing consortiums to reduce costs for the taxpayer and who all bid in 2014.

If these companies were good enough for the CRD to qualify them to compete, why then has the competition been closed for a project that we are being told is “substantially different” from the earlier incarnation?

When I am asked by residents if this project is a done deal, I have to be brutally honest and reply yes with regard to the wastewater plant, however, the request for proposals (RFP) for the Hartland-situated sludge processing infrastructure has yet to be put out for RFP.

This half of the project – and it has always been this half – has the potential to return the highest social and environmental outcome and the greatest cost savings for taxpayers, but only if the RFP is part of an open procurement process and only if innovative technology is allowed to compete.

If the RFP once again, as it was in 2014, calls for the production of biogas, the costs will be staggering and we will simply be landfilling biosolids at great expense.

I firmly believe and have seen strong proof that $200 million in cost savings is at stake, and as a community we have to continue to be involved in this project and demand the best outcome from the CRD and project board and I will continue to do so as well as your representative.

Richard Atwell is the mayor of Saanich.

 

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