City of Powell River council is set to make the most significant capital expenditure in the history of Powell River: the wastewater treatment plant. However, there is ample justification not to proceed at this time.
Firstly, the cost estimate for this project has more than doubled from $30,000,000 to $66,000,000 without a change in scope. This is a major red flag for anyone with project management experience.
Council is trying to assure the public there will be no further cost increases. However, it does not have a justification to make this claim. The $66 million is a Class C estimate, not a Class A, A being the most reliable.
Furthermore, the design consultants have not identified an example of a similar project that was built on schedule and on budget. A simple Google search on sewage treatment projects shows examples like Sechelt, where both construction and operating costs have exceeded estimates.
Secondly, the capital and operating costs are to be shared with the Tla'amin Nation, a partner in this proposed wastewater treatment project, but no details are available at this time. Thirdly, is the negative impact of the proposed wastewater treatment plant on the value and potential use of the old golf club lands. During the last four months, council has received presentations on how BC coastal communities have created economic activity on recovered waterfront property. Our council wants to go against the tide and degrade the most valuable piece of waterfront property left in Powell River. If the wastewater treatment plant were to be relocated away from the waterfront, the city would create a multimillion dollar asset that could generate economic opportunities, jobs and annual tax revenues.
Fourthly, is the looming possibility that the Catalyst mill could shut down. Recent Peak articles have discussed new United States Department of Commerce tariffs and a shortage of wood fibre. In a worse case scenario, the mill shuts down at the same time council has committed to build the wastewater treatment plant on the old golf club lands.
While we hope this will not happen, it has to be considered. In this scenario taxpayers could be faced with a significant ongoing increase in their tax bill.
To proceed now on the wastewater treatment plant without a good understanding of the potential impact on taxpayers is unjustifiable. As an alternative, council should be engaging Powell River leaders from business, community organizations and ratepayers to assist them in developing a strategic plan (lifecycle cost benefit) to maximize the value of the old golf club lands and address the need for sewage treatment in Powell River.
This is not just a Townsite issue. All residents of Powell River will feel the impact of a poor decision for the next 50 to 100 years.
Ron Woznow is a resident of Powell River.