Construction contractor "abandons" $1-billion North Shore sewage treatment plant project

Oct 4 2021, 5:27 pm

The major infrastructure project of providing the North Shore communities with a new expanded and improved sewage treatment plant appears to have hit a significant setback.

According to Metro Vancouver Regional District, the main construction contractor, Acciona Infrastructure Canada, has laid off about 130 staff at the site of the future North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant Project in the District of North Vancouver. This is down from about 300 people at the construction site earlier this year.

In a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized, regional district commissioner and chief administrative officer Jerry Dobrovolny says the regional district learned on Wednesday, September 29, without any notice, that Acciona “significantly reduced staff working on the project.”

“It appears to Metro Vancouver that Acciona has abandoned the project,” said Dobrovolny.

In 2019, the regional district worked with Acciona to amend the original contract to provide the contractor with 2.5 years extra to complete the project. This amended contract obligated the company to complete the plant by the end of 2023.

north shore wastewater treatment plant

Artistic rendering of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Acciona/Metro Vancouver Regional District)

The regional district states it upheld the terms of the contract and made all payments due, but Acciona still fell behind meeting key milestones.

Additionally, this past spring, the project’s construction costs were updated to reflect both the costs of the renegotiated contract and additional construction time allocated. At that point, the regional district anticipated the plant would be complete and fully operational in 2024.

The latest total cost estimate is $1.058 billion — up from $700 million when major construction began in 2018, based on the initial schedule for a 2020 completion. The cost increase accounts for not only the cost of the actual new plant, but also the conveyance project built by another contractor, and preliminary design work for the decommissioning of the existing plant immediately west of the Lions Gate Bridge.

“We have made an effort to work together, but we expect them to honour all of the contract obligations. Given they are years behind schedule for this project, we also expected them to be increasing their efforts on site not reducing them as we saw last week,” continued Dobrovolny.

“We’re committed to completing the project, and are actively assessing our options for how to proceed and ensure it is delivered in the best interest of the region.”

north shore wastewater treatment plant

Artistic rendering of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Acciona/Metro Vancouver Regional District)

The new plant is intended to provide wastewater with tertiary treatment — a significant improvement from the primary-only treatment of the Lions Gate facility. When complete, it would treat about 100 million litres per day under normal conditions, and up to 320 million litres per day when storm water enters the sewer system.

Additionally, the plant would have green design features such as using the generated biogas to create electricity for operating the plant and heating the facility, heat recovery capabilities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7,200 tonnes annually, and an odour control system that would make odour undetectable in the adjacent neighbourhood.

The plant is being built on a 7.6-acre former industrial site, previously a rail yard for BC Rail, near the North Vancouver waterfront — just north of Seaspan’s main shipyards hub. The site is framed by West 1st Street to the north, Pemberton Avenue to the east, Phillip Avenue to the west, and railways to the south.

north shore wastewater treatment plant

Artistic rendering of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Acciona/Metro Vancouver Regional District)

Acciona Infrastructure Canada is a division of Spanish conglomerate Acciona, which is also the main construction contractor for two major transportation infrastructure projects by the provincial government — the $1.4-billion replacement Pattullo Bridge, and the $2.8-billion SkyTrain Millennium Line Broadway Extension.

Both transportation projects began major construction activities earlier this year, with the bridge scheduled for completion in 2023, and the subway in 2025.

As well, Acciona is currently in the process of building BC’s most expensive infrastructure project ever — the $16-billion Site C hydroelectric dam, now set for completion in 2025 after expensive delays.

North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant North Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant. (Acciona/Metro Vancouver Regional District)

The regional district is in the early stages of a $1.3-billion expansion of the wastewater treatment facility in Langley Township, set for completion in 2026. It is also planning a $10-billion wastewater treatment facility northwest of Vancouver International Airport — replacing the aging facility on Iona Island — which is anticipated to be operational by 2034.

There are also a number of other concurrent utility projects by the regional district, including the Second Narrows Water Supply Tunnel of providing a new seismic resilient way for water originating from the North Shore reservoirs to make its way to the communities south of Burrard Inlet. Just today, the regional district announced it had reached a major project milestone of completing the 1.1-km-long tunnel structure using a boring machine.

More than a decade ago, the regional district hit trouble with its contractor for the boring of two seven-km-long water supply tunnels deep under Grouse Mountain, connecting North Shore reservoirs to the new Seymour-Capilano Filtration Plant. The contractor, citing safety concerns with unstable rock conditions, was eventually dismissed and sued by the regional district, and another company was contracted to finish the work. The project reached completion in 2015, after years of delays and added costs.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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