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Metro Vancouver water treatment plant bill balloons to $3.86 billion

Metro Vancouver water treatment plant’s original budget was $700 million, later upped to $1.58 billion before Metro terminated contract with original designer and builder

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Residents of the North Shore will wind up spending an extra $725 a year per household to pay for the completion of a new wastewater treatment plant that has been mired in controversy and huge cost overruns, Metro Vancouver’s board decided Friday.

The bill to replace the current plant under the Lions Gate Bridge will be $3.86 billion to completion in 2030, more than five times the original estimate of $700 million and more than twice the revised figure of $1.58 billion from former contractor Acciona.

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Other Metro residents will pay significantly less than residents of West Vancouver and the City and District of North Vancouver — $140 per household per year for Vancouver, $80 for the Fraser Valley, and $70 for Lulu Island/Richmond.

“We’ve taken a major step forward today resetting the budget so we can complete the project and we need to complete the project,” said Jerry Dobrovolny, chief administrative officer of Metro.

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The Lions Gate wastewater treatment plant March 22, 2024. Photo: GORD MCINTYRE Photo by Gord McIntyre /sun

The plant is being built to serve an estimated 300,000 people living on the North Shore by the end of its life in 2100, an increase in population of roughly 50 per cent over today’s number.

A meeting of mayors will examine how to implement the higher cost to taxpayers and review what projects may need to be delayed or shelved as a result.

At any given time Metro has roughly 300 projects on the go, Dobrovolny said. But most pale in cost compared with the North Shore treatment plant — projects usually come in at tens of millions of dollars to a few hundred millions of dollars.

Metro and Acciona are embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute, so Dobrovolny would say only that the company was responsible for design and construction, and that Metro lost confidence that the company could bring the project in on time and on budget.

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“We’ve had no alternative,” Dobrovolny said. “This project and schedule is not optional.”

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The new North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant on March 22. Photo by Gord McIntyre /sun

The existing plant was commissioned in 1961 and has reached the end of its life. It and Lulu Island are the last two major wastewater treatments plants on the North American West Coast to only provide primary treatment, Dobrovolny said.

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Metro Vancouver CAO Jerry Dobrovolny addresses the media following a Metro Vancouver Infrastructure technical briefing Friday, March 22, 2024. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Federal law requires plants to now have tertiary treatment, which removes micro plastics.

The plant under construction — $600 million has been spent to date — is being built on a site on former B.C. Rail lands, two kilometres east of the existing plant.

Decommissioning of the Lions Gate plant and associated remediation of the site will take place when construction of the new plant is finished. Once the old plant is decommissioned, the land, currently leased from the province, will be turned over to the Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation).

The new plant is being designed to meet provincial and federal regulatory requirements for secondary treatment and will provide tertiary filtration to better protect the environment. It has a stacked design, and several design considerations that support climate action, resilience and community goals.

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According to Metro, more than 1,500 construction “deficiencies” were discovered after the new contractor, PCL, began work. Photographs supplied by Metro show metres-wide holes in concrete walls, discovered by PCL engineers tapping with hammers.

As well, according to Metro, Acciona hadn’t done all the design work that it had claimed to have done.

Three companies were hired to provide new estimates for the project, including PCL. The original deadline for the project was 2020.

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