The District of Sechelt doesn’t have all the funding, partnerships or approvals in place to finish building its $25 million sewage treatment plant, so council has extended the build contract by two months, with the hope everything will come together soon.
The decision was made at a special council meeting held Aug. 28.
Wastewater treatment plant project coordinator Paul Nash told council the construction contract with Maple Reinders needed to be extended in order to meet certain conditions set out in the contract.
Those conditions included confirming the internal and external funding sources for the project, receiving all the appropriate approvals and the completion of a contract with Salish Soils to compost biosolids generated from the facility.
Councillors heard that a “change in scope” was holding up approval of $8 million in gas tax funding (originally granted for a biosolids handling facility in 2011), that $3.2 million in Building Canada funding was not yet in hand, that the environmental approvals have not been given, and that Salish Soils has yet to sign a contract committing them to compost biosolids generated by the new sewage treatment plant.
Nash assured councillors that summer holidays of key staff members in the provincial government and at Salish Soils were holding up the process.
“Summer time is not a good time to negotiate a contract,” Nash said, noting he expected to have a contract with Salish Soils hammered out by the end of this month.
He said the Ministry of Environment gave him verbal confirmation their approvals should come in by the end of September, as well.
The management committee in charge of giving out the gas tax funding “is meeting next week to make their decision on this,” Nash said, adding that once a decision is made it will take a few more weeks for Sechelt to receive the official paperwork.
Coun. Alice Lutes said she was a bit uncomfortable extending the contract with “so many conditions still left standing.”
One alternative in Nash’s report was to waive the conditions, which could leave the District liable to pay for the treatment plant “if the funding sources are rejected.”
The only other option he provided was to suspend work on the plant until the funding is in place, which might result in construction not being completed “within the time frames of the funding sources.”
Mayor John Henderson said he was sure the funding would come through.
“For example, the Building Canada Fund, they’ve said ‘we’re still working on the process of approval, but keep sending us the invoices and we will pay them.’ So it’s more of a documentation phase in respect of the Building Canada Fund than anything else,” Henderson said, adding the District had enough funds to continue with the work underway right now.
“Usually you get the grants after you do the work. You make it in stages, but they don’t give us a cheque up front.”
On the possibility of Salish Soils not committing to take the biosolids produced by the new treatment plant, Henderson said, “there are other options.” “It would, if it ever came to that, be a matter of a commercial negotiation, so I’m not permitted to discuss the specifics, but there are other organizations around that do similar work to Salish Soils,” he said.
When the vote was called all but Lutes were in favour of extending the build contract.
Following the meeting, Henderson fielded questions from a few angry constituents in the audience.
“I think there is a lack of respect for taxpayers with you guys rushing ahead here without getting all the T’s crossed and getting the funding approval. You let the public believe you had funding in place. You do not have the funding in place,” Ebbtide resident Sandor Pap said. “What are you going to do if you don’t get the funding, sir?”
Henderson replied, “We’re going to get the funding.”
When pushed for an answer he said, “I don’t choose to speculate on hypothetical situations,” before ending the discussion with, “I have no comment.”