North Shore treatment plant cost rises. What this means for locals.

Metro Vancouver is moving forward with construction of the North Shore wastewater plant, even though the budget has ballooned to nearly $4B. But is cancelling the project a realistic option?

The estimated cost for the North Shore’s new Wastewater Treatment Plant has ballooned from around $700 million to $3.86 billion, after the regional district was forced to switch contractors.

The facility is supposed to replace the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant, which has been operating since the 1960s and is out of its service life.

In an update Friday, Metro Vancouver’s commissioner said there were numerous problems with the initial contractor tasked with building the new plant. That led to delays, and after the district fired the company, the new contractors found themselves picking up after their bad work, adding to costs.

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“There were also a tremendous number of deficiencies that needed to be corrected and addressed — over 1,500 serious construction, concrete-related voids that needed to be repaired. That didn’t become apparent until we got our new contractor, PCL, was on site, and they started doing extensive work, and investigative work. And they’ve repaired over 1,500 concrete deficiencies,” Metro Vancouver Regional District Commissioner and CAO Jerry Dobrovolny said Friday.

Cost per household on the North Shore

The district says the new estimate could lead to an increased average cost to people on the North Shore, likely charged through an annual levy. It adds the region could be saddled with additional costs for up to three decades.

“Some of the work is still to come. Next month, we have our board budget workshop where the board will give us direction for next year’s 2025 budget and the new … five year plan,” Dobrovolny said, noting how much each household will pay each year will partly depend on the budgets to come.

However, in rough numbers, he says the amount required to be collected per household on the North Shore will be “about $725 per household, per year, for the 30 years.”

“That’s the magnitude of $3.86 billion translated into a per-household cost per year. But again, we don’t need the $3.86 billion tomorrow or this year. And so there’ll be a ramp-in period as the cash flow is required. So it’s from $0to $725 over some number of years,” he explained.

Once complete, the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant is set to serve more than 300,000 residents and businesses in the city and district of North Vancouver, and the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Dobrovolny says this has been “a very challenging project for the past many years,” but adds the district “took a major step forward” Friday to reset and increase the budget.

“The reality is, the cost to deliver the program has changed significantly since its initial estimate 13 years ago,” Dobrovolny explained.

“In updating the cost estimate, Metro Vancouver took into consideration the many large infrastructure projects in the market today, which are all competing for resources; the cumulative effect of inflation of construction and labour costs; and the significant work that was needed to address design and construction deficiencies.”

New treatment plant ‘not optional’: MVRD

He notes three independent estimates were done, in order for the regional district to “have a comprehensive understanding” of the best options available.

“As you can imagine, it’s a very volatile environment right now. You’re seeing, essentially, all major projects being challenged both in terms of budget and schedule. We completed a value engineering exercise to look closely at all the assumptions that have been made over the number of years to ensure that we are getting the best value for the region and for the residents of the North Shore as we deliver the project.”

Dobrovolny stresses this project is “not optional.”

“It’s critically important that we complete the work that’s been started. We need to have a new treatment plant on the North Shore. The existing plant has reached the end of its service life and it’s critically important to the environment that we upgrade the plant beyond primary treatment, that we’re doing more to protect the environment,” he said Friday.

He says the original budgets set for this project were done “many years ago,” before COVID-19 even. That, as well as other factors like inflation, have only added to pressures.

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