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Hurry-up sewage project has politicians worried

Aug 09 2012
Greater Victoria’s sewage treatment mega-project is hitting high gear, with a flurry of activity over the next few months that has left some politicians concerned about whether innovation and plant esthetics will be steamrolled by a ticking clock.

“We’re going to get busy,” said Denise Blackwell, chairwoman of the Capital Regional District’s sewage committee.

“We’ve had a bit of a lull. Now it’s going to pick up again.”

The committee met Wednesday for the first time since the federal and provincial governments confirmed their two-thirds share of the $783-million project four weeks ago.

In the next six months, the committee is expected to recruit a seven-member commission of experts, begin preliminary design of the McLoughlin Point plant, finalize a site for a biosolids facility, start the rezoning process for underground tanks in Saanich’s Haro Woods and get a 25-person project management team up and running in a new 5,000-square-foot office.

The critical step is early design of McLoughlin Point, to give interested companies a sense of what can fit on the site, said Jack Hull, the CRD’s integrated water services manager. If that’s delayed, the project’s 2018 completion date will be in jeopardy, he said.

But the mere mention of design sent up warning flags among committee members. Some questioned whether it would too quickly narrow the plant’s architecture before any companies could bring forward innovative alternatives.

Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff zeroed in on the esthetics of the McLaughlin plant, which will be located on the Esquimalt side of the entrance to the Inner Harbour.

She took exception to Hull’s explanation that “there will not be an extensive amount of time available to review” esthetic design guidelines, given the tight schedule.

“I find it very concerning … the notion good design could cost us too much, and good design could take too much time for us to vet,” Madoff said. “I cannot emphasize the level of concern I have about that.”

Madoff noted it is common to use esthetic design guidelines to help shape the look of big projects and make them acceptable to the community.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said doing any design work before companies submit bids would restrict innovation.

“It worries me that will be the nail in the coffin for that innovative process,” she said.

CRD staff defended the “indicative design” process, saying it was only a preliminary “base concept” to inform potential bidders who are considering whether to spend millions of dollars preparing a bid package.

“It’s a planning process that doesn’t restrict the opportunity for innovation,” Hull said.

On Wednesday, sewage committee members also delayed passing a bylaw that would have authorized a commission of experts to take over control of the project, as required by the provincial government.

Instead, the politicians asked for a series of changes to the bylaw that would emphasize innovative alternatives, give higher priority to esthetics, increase financial reporting and clarify the role of the board and the sewage committee in decision-making.

The commission bylaw is expected to return for a vote on Aug. 22. The commission could become active as early as November and take over the bulk of the decision-making power from the committee of politicians

rshaw@timescolonist.com

Fast Times for Treatment Designs

Planning for Greater Victoria’s $783-million sewage treatment project is picking up steam. Here’s a general timeline:

- Aug. 22 — The next sewage committee meeting. Expect to see a key report on site selection and consultation for a biosolids energy plant, currently planned for Hartland Landfill.

- September — An executive search firm begins looking for seven technical experts to sit on a sewage commission.

- September — “Indicative design” of the McLoughlin treatment plant begins, which staff say is a “base concept” for companies to see before bidding. Estimated to take eight months.

- Late September — A meeting of companies interested in bidding.

- September/October — Rezoning process for underground tanks at Saanich East Haro Woods site begins, expected to be finalized in spring 2013.

- November — Opening of a new project management office where a 25-person team will work on sewage treatment.

- November — Sewage commission takes over control of project from politicians, sets sights on a request for qualifications that will see companies send in credentials. Three will be shortlisted and able to later respond to the request for proposals.

- April 2013 — The request for proposals process starts for McLoughlin Point plant.

- January-April 2014 — Earliest date a contract could be awarded to design and build at McLoughlin Point plant.

— Rob Shaw

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