CRD sewage committee OKs consulting contract

Greater Victoria’s sewage committee has approved a $711,000 consulting contract with Partnerships B.C., despite some politicians warning that the government-owned agency is biased toward public-private partnerships.

A majority on the committee voted Wednesday to award the contract despite objections from the mayors of Esquimalt, View Royal and Colwood, as well a councillor from each of Saanich and Victoria.

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Partnerships B.C., which reports directly to the finance minister, will now put together the tendering documents that the Capital Regional District will use to solicit bids from companies interested in building the McLoughlin Point secondary sewage treatment plant.

The work will likely run to May 2014, with overall completion of the treatment system set for 2018.

Several members of the 15-person sewage committee questioned why the contract was awarded without a public competition.

Others worried that the company, seen as the pro-P3 arm of a B.C. Liberal government that pushes privatization, wouldn’t give unbiased advice to CRD officials as they plan the $783-million sewage project.

Saanich Coun. Vic Derman asked if the province had insisted Partnerships B.C. receive the contract, as part of its $248-million funding commitment.

“The province is not going to use the word insist, but I think it’s clear … because there is over $50 million in provincial funding on this, that Partnerships B.C. would be involved in the procurement process,” said CRD interim sewage project director Jack Hull.

Nonetheless, Hull said, the CRD has made it clear to Partnerships B.C. that the company reports to the regional government, not the province, on this project.

The deal will give the CRD access to Partnership B.C.’s contracting documents, which are already tested and accepted in the marketplace, thereby saving the sewage project time and money, Hull said.

Partnerships B.C. has extensive experience with such projects, and CRD staff are satisfied that it is the best company for the job — even without a public competition, he said.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to get procurement advice from a company that promotes privatization.

The B.C. and federal governments have mandated that at least one part of the three-phase treatment project — the biosolids energy centre — be treated as a public-private partnership.

Sarah Clark, president and CEO of Partnerships B.C., said the agency has experience on more than 35 infrastructure projects and focuses on the needs of its clients.

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