Call for inquiry into North Shore wastewater plant defeated at New West council

With costs and concerns growing about the North Shore wastewater treatment plant, a motion calling for a public inquiry was defeated on Monday night.

The vote at New Westminster city council was tied 3-3, automatically resulting in a defeat.

Three months ago, it was revealed the estimated costs for the facility had ballooned by $700 million to $3.86 billion. The blame for the blowout in the budget has been widely speculated, including on inflation, but one city councillor isn’t buying it.

“That’s simply a fallacy. There were clearly some structural problems. There were obviously some issues around site locations and other things,” New Westminster Coun. Daniel Fontaine told CityNews.

He adds he’s speaking to a number of councillors around the region to figure out a plan ‘b.’

“There are a lot of cost issues with Metro Vancouver that are of concern, so, at the moment, we’re looking at every avenue that we can, both provincially, municipally, and regionally to try and find a way to get to the bottom of what happened with this wastewater cost overrun.”

Fontaine is hoping they’ll have more details to share on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Fontaine says the facility in North Vancouver is just one problem. He says the treatment plant project in Richmond is also way over budget.

“We’re just about to get started on the Iona wastewater treatment plant — that particular piece of public infrastructure is now pegged at $12 billion … and according to Metro Vancouver, the cost for that project is now going up $1 billion every six months.”

The original price tag for that project was closer to $10 billion.

Fontaine feels that if they don’t get answers now, this “financial debacle” will repeat itself with other projects in the future.

“If we don’t get answers to what happened on the North Shore and make sure we don’t repeat them, we’re bound to be having this discussion again in a few years and all wondering why we’re paying such high Metro Vancouver taxes,” he said.

“That’s why when you have these types of projects that go so terribly wrong, the best thing to do is not run away, not put your head in the sand but actually dig in, find out what went wrong, and report it to the public.”

He says there’s a 14-member task force at Metro Vancouver that has confidential information about the plant in North Vancouver but they aren’t being transparent.

“We haven’t been provided with that information, so, I don’t feel confident at the moment that we’re going to be able to course-correct the Iona or other projects because we simply don’t have the answers to it.”

The overruns have a direct effect on the public with residents on the North Shore seeing an annual jump in their utility bill by almost $600. Residents living in areas serviced by the Vancouver sewerage area will see an increase of $150 annually, while those living in the Lulu Island and Fraser sewerage areas will see annual impacts of $80 and $90 respectively.

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