‘Big rush’ on sewage megaproject angers Esquimalt mayor

Esquimalt’s mayor is surprised and angry at a sudden push for bids on Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment megaproject, fast-tracked by a secret vote this week.

Companies that want to bid on the first phase of the project — a McLoughlin Point treatment plant — are being asked to submit their experience and financial capabilities as part of a request for qualifications issued by the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee after an in-camera vote on Wednesday.

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The move caught several politicians off guard because the request for qualifications was supposed to be developed and issued by an independent commission of experts.

“I was very concerned that we were reviewing this document without having our experts do the review first,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, one of a handful of politicians to vote against the move.

“It’s not going to be very long before we have that commission in place. What is the big rush? Why is this being pushed so hard?”

The creation of the seven-person commission — a requirement of the B.C. government’s one-third share of the $783-million sewage treatment project — has been delayed by at least four months due to a fight over whether the CRD would have approval power over tendering documents.

“There’s been delays in getting the commission in place, and because the McLoughlin facility is on the critical path to get the project completed, we went to the committee and the board and recommended moving ahead to get the [request for qualifications] out,” said Jack Hull, interim project director.

The CRD hopes the commission will be operating within weeks, and able to amend and approve the request for qualifications before it closes in May, Hull said.

Three companies are expected to be short-listed to bid by the end of the year, with work beginning in spring 2014, he said.

Construction costs continue to rise, Hull said, and the CRD wants to hire companies before beginning other major Island projects — such as John Hart dam upgrades in Campbell River, the Johnson Street Bridge replacement in Victoria and two new north Island hospitals.

“That’s not a reason to undo the appropriate process,” said Desjardins, who said things are moving too quickly.

The call to companies comes before the CRD has completed its design guidelines for the McLoughlin facility. An early mock-up of the plant, to be located on the harbour, was criticized last month as an eyesore.

Politicians had hoped the tendering process would provide innovative new ideas and technology for treatment.

But neither design nor innovation is part of the request for qualifications, Hull said. That will come during the short-list process later this year.

The McLoughlin contract involves the treatment plant (with a capital cost estimated at $210 million), as well as underwater pipes.

The CRD is expected to issue an request for qualifications for its biosolids facility this fall, to be followed by a contract for upgrades to pipes and pumping stations. The entire project is slated to be completed by 2017-18.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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