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HomeBusinessExclusive: North Vancouver sewage megaproject in limbo, as builder and Metro Vancouver sued for $20 million

Exclusive: North Vancouver sewage megaproject in limbo, as builder and Metro Vancouver sued for $20 million

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Bob Mackin

The manager for the troubled North Shore Wastewater Treatment Project (NSWWTP) joined a Texas-based construction giant while work ground to a halt on the North Vancouver site, theBreaker.news has learned.

It is not known whether Paul Dufault’s move was connected to the stop work order issued April 10 by the District of North Vancouver or the $20 million lawsuit filed April 4 by subcontrator Tetra Tech against builder Acciona and Metro Vancouver.

Engineering firm Tetra Tech claims in the B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit that it was wrongfully fired Feb. 22 after Acciona breached its contract by failing to provide, “in a timely way, fully and accurately all information as might reasonably be required for Tetra Tech’s performance of all the services, including decisions and directions passed down to Acciona from GVSDD and Acciona Wastewater.”

April 10-issued stop work order for the $779M North Shore sewage plant project (Mackin)

Tetra Tech also claims Acciona failed to provide viable integrated schedules, including procurement and construction schedules, and that Acciona provided late and incomplete responses to requests for information and failed. None of the allegations has been proven in court and Acciona has yet to file a statement of defence.

Dufault began his new job as senior municipal infrastructure project manager at Jacobs this month. He did not respond to requests for comment. Likewise, neither Acciona nor Metro Vancouver agreed to interviews.

Tetra Tech’s lawsuit claims it agreed to terms of a conditional contract with Acciona for design services in January 2017. Metro Vancouver chose Acciona in April 2017 for the $525 million design, build, finance and provision contract. The $778 million project has a deadline of 2020 to correspond with new federal regulations requiring secondary treatment of sewage. The only activity since last summer has been the delivery and compacting of sand to prepare the site of the former BC Rail station for construction.

North Vancouver District Mayor Mike Little said the stop work order was issued because Acciona did not have proper certified professionals in place — although little or no work had been performed for about a month before the stop work order.

Charles Trad, the senior vice-president of operations at Acciona’s Vancouver office, refused to answer questions about the project when reached by phone on April 23.

“We have a committee that handles all communications,” Trad told theBreaker.news. “I’ve forwarded your request to them.”

Charles Trad (Acciona)

More than six hours later, the company delivered a one-sentence statement by email that said: “We are currently in confidential discussions with Metro Vancouver and are unable to comment further at this time other than to assure you that steps are being taken to move the project forward and have the stop work order removed.”

In January, sources told theBreaker.news that contractors and subcontractors were in discussions with lawyers who were preparing to file claims against Metro Vancouver and Acciona, which had apparently underestimated the cost of the contract.

At the time, Metro Vancouver chair Sav Dhaliwal said it was on-budget and on-time, but he was contradicted within a week by Dufault’s report to the liquid waste committee that included a $77.9 million increase to the $700 million budget. Dhaliwal did not respond for comment on April 23. 

“With respect to the project timeline, Acciona is contracted to deliver the project on the timeline approved by the board,” Dufault wrote in the January report. “As both the plant construction contract and conveyance works contract are design build projects, the contractors for these two projects are required to complete the projects on the basis of the fixed price contractual terms within the overall budget as set out above.”

Nowhere in Dufault’s report did it say the project was on-time or on-budget. It also did not include a calendar of project schedule milestones or any diagram showing how much of the budget had been spent.

A similar project near Victoria is also suffering. Capital Regional District injected another $10 million to a sewage plant project, where the budget is now $775 million. Higher costs for labour and materials were blamed and the $69 million project contingency has dwindled to $13 million.

Meanwhile, Trad denied that the former head of SNC-Lavalin’s B.C. office is working on NSWWTP. But he did say Jim Burke is involved elsewhere in Acciona’s B.C. operations.

In the 2010 SNC-Lavalin annual report photo, Riadh ben Aissa (left), Jim Burke and Pierre Duhaime.

“Jim Burke is a consultant that works with Acciona on several contracts,” Trad said.

A joint Acciona and SNC-Lavalin bid was shortlisted in February for the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement. Both companies are also working on the $10.7 billion Site C dam for BC Hydro. Burke was on the expert, due diligence panels that were struck in 2017 to review the TransLink business cases for the Broadway Subway SkyTrain and Surrey LRT.

Burke has run Cougar Creek Consulting since 2015. He was SNC-Lavalin’s senior vice-president and general manager of the Vancouver-based transportation division from 2002 to 2007 before promotion to executive vice-president from 2008 to 2015. The company considered Burke a member of the office of the president.

In the 2010 SNC-Lavalin annual report, Burke was photographed standing beside CEO Pierre Duhaime and vice-president Riadh ben Aissa. The latter cooperated with the RCMP to investigate SNC-Lavalin corruption, after pleading guilty in Switzerland in 2014 to bribing the son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The former is serving 20 months house arrest for breach of trust related to the McGill superhospital project.

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