Council chooses P3 option for sewage plant expansion 

Wastewater treatment plant upgrades to be designed, built and operated by a private company

The municipality has decided to partner with the private sector to upgrade Whistler’s notoriously smelly and at times overworked sewage treatment plant.

The public private partnership, or P3, could mean the upgrades – which include increased plant capacity and elimination of odours – will be finished by 2007.

That’s good news for all the businesses in Function Junction who must endure the stench wafting from the wastewater treatment plant.

Council’s decision to enter into a P3 is a break from the traditional model of construction.

"We’re not by any means the first to do this but it’s a change for us because we’ve been on a pretty consistent path, using our traditional design," said Mayor Hugh O’Reilly. "But this one’s a big expansion, the numbers were getting very significant. We thought it would be in the best interest of the taxpayers and the municipality to investigate the options."

Council has chosen a design-build-operate approach for the $22 million expansion and upgrade, which means one company, or a consortium of companies, will do the design, build it and then operate the plant. The contract would most likely run for 10 years with an option to renew.

"We think that that’s going to drive innovation and efficiencies," said O’Reilly. "I think that’s where we’re going to find our savings."

Last year the municipality secured $12.6 million for the upgrades through the federal-provincial infrastructure grant program. The balance, $11.4 million, would traditionally be made up by drawing down on municipal reserves intended for such projects. In its 2002 financial plan the municipality stated that it would pursue opportunities for sponsorship and public private partnerships to assist with capital financing.

Brian Barnett, the municipality’s general manager of engineering and public works, also believes the public-private partnership will increase efficiencies.

"I think that it will save probably 12 months worth of construction and that’s quite meaningful in terms of cost," said Barnett. "It (the design-build-operate model) will reduce the construction period considerably because the design takes place while the construction can be taking place as well."

For example, he said, the company could order parts, material and equipment, which can sometimes take months to deliver, during the design stage. Under the traditional model the design plans must be completed before going out to construction tender.

Barnett said the P3 would also encourage better performance from the private partner.

"The research that we’ve done on design-build-operate shows that you get not just savings in time and money but you get more compliance with environmental standards, you get better results in terms of the operation," he said.

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