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HomeBusinessMetro Vancouver chair hoping for more federal, B.C. help to mop up North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant cost overruns 

Metro Vancouver chair hoping for more federal, B.C. help to mop up North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant cost overruns 

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Bob Mackin

The chair of Metro Vancouver said he was occupied in another meeting on the afternoon of March 22, at the same chief executive Jerry Dobrovolny revealed that it would cost $3.86 billion to finish the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant by 2030. 

The project was supposed to cost $700 million and be open in 2020.

Jerry Dobrovolny (upper left), Treasury Board president Anita Anand, George Harvie and Surrey Board of Trade’s Anita Huberman (Huberman/IG)

“It was a meeting that I had to attend, I was chairing that one also, that’s why I wasn’t there,” said George Harvie, who is also Mayor of Delta. “I had full confidence in Mr. Dobrovolny, our commissioner, to hold that press conference.”

Dobrovolny’s announcement came on a Friday afternoon in the middle of spring break, the week after a task force of regional politicians chaired by Harvie recommended carrying on with the project. It had been set back by pandemic delays, disputes with the original builder, Acciona, and a change in scope from secondary to tertiary treatment. After Metro Vancouver formally fired Acciona in early 2022, the Spanish company sued the regional district for $250 million. Metro Vancouver countersued for $500 million. 

Dobrovolny suggested the project could cost the average North Shore homeowner $775 a year over three decades to pay the additional cost. Harvie admitted his constituents won’t be spared. He said they’re looking at $80 per year under the regional sewage funding formula.

“Now, we have to go through a full review of this through our budget process, which is happening just in a very short time. That’s where it’ll be discussed and a decision made by the board as a whole,” Harvie said.

Asked if the task force documents, including the final report will be made public, Harvie said that decision will be left to Dobrovolny and the Metro Vancouver litigation team.

Harvie said the construction industry has changed immensely in recent years, to the point that “there’s no such thing as a fixed price anymore.”

“I would like to see a real good study done insofar as the future of these big projects in today’s world.”

The massive cost overrun at the North Vancouver project recalls the words of Bent Flyvbjerg, a business professor at Oxford University, who has analyzed megaprojects around the world. 

In his Iron Law of Megaprojects, Flyvbjerg said big infrastructure comes in “over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again.”

“Overruns up to 50% in real terms are common, and over 50% overruns are not uncommon,” Flyvberg’s research has found.

The big reason is ego. Architects want visually pleasing products and engineers are excited by building the longest/fastest/tallest. Politicians have a tendency to want monuments that benefit themselves and their cause. Business people and trade unions want revenue and jobs.

At the March 22 announcement, Dobrovolny said the board would return to the federal government and provincial government to seek more funding. In 2017, the two combined for $405 million. Dobrovolny and Harvie met March 11 in Surrey with Anita Anand, the federal treasury board president. 

Harvie said Metro Vancouver mayors are “struggling” to find sustainable funding, for transit and utilities as population continues to increase. Major developments, such as the Broadway Corridor and Jericho Lands, will put more pressure on Vancouver to provide drinking water and sewage treatment. 

“When you look at the intended growth that the province and federal government are putting on local governments,” he said.  “We need to find it, we can’t continue to provide water and sewage services without assistance from the province and the federal government.”

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