Perth councillors unhappy with wasterwater upgrade costs but will proceed

Posted on: August 3, 2017

Matthew Behrens

Following heated discussion at the town of Perth’s Aug. 1 committee of the whole meeting, town council approved wastewater management upgrades with a price tag over $3 million higher than originally budgeted.

Grant Machan, the town’s director of environmental services, noted that plans for wastewater management expansion have been an ongoing concern since at least 2006, when the sewage lagoon was approaching 90 per cent capacity.  The long-discussed lower-cost alternative to construction of a brand new water treatment plant (which could cost upwards of $40 million) was the development of a Submerged Activated Growth Reactor (SAGR) that would speed up the process of filtering contaminants out of the town’s sewage lagoon.

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But costs originally prepared by the consulting firm R.V. Anderson did not match what was before council on Aug.1. What was initially a project in the ballpark of $5 million had ballooned significantly, with some numbers as high as $14 million (since reduced to just over $9 million).

Under questioning from a number of dismayed town councillors, consultant Trevor Kealey explained that “we weren’t into the nitty gritty of pipe size, details of that nature,” and added the industry was not as busy and there weren’t many grants available at the time they prepared their first estimate. “There was a lot more competitive bidding. We based our pricing on the situation that was ongoing at that point…the market is a lot different. There is a lot of funding currently available, all of which have scheduling impacts. There’s a lot of communities right now that have funds available that all have the same deadline. That is leading to a lot higher prices in terms of a general trend across the industry. The contractors are all very busy and supply and demand has been driving this thing forward very quickly over the last few months,” he explained.  

Councillor Jim Boldt was not buying that explanation, saying “it really bothers me to have you come in here and say ‘in 2016, we were only at $6.4 million, and oh gosh, now we’re at $9.1 million, and the main reason for that is because everybody got busy at the same time.’ I understand that, but when everyone gets busy, do they just screw municipalities because of that? I guess they do. I have a real hard time understanding why we pay for consultants to help us hang our hats on a number. If you were out by only a million dollars, it wouldn’t have bothered me, but you’re out by almost double the price.”

Kealey agreed that it is “bothersome to everyone to see a price like that,” but that his firm had put their best foot forward. “Our target is to give you a very accurate price. There were certain assumptions we made that now, looking at the detailed design, didn’t prove true.”

Councillor Ed McPherson, who chairs the finance committee, added that he too was  “not happy” with the $9 million price, but noted expansion of the treatment plant was essential to Perth’s growth. “This will give the town 30 year of expansion which is what we need,” he concluded.

There will be no increase in taxes to pay for the SAGR, and additional funds will come out of the town’s reserves.