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North Vancouver councillor calls for audit of sewage plant budget hike

DNV Coun. Catherine Pope says the projected costs for the project, now pegged at $3.86 billion, are 'unacceptable' for North Shore taxpayers

One North Vancouver politician is calling for an independent review after it was revealed on Friday that costs of the North Shore Wastewater Treatment Plant project have ballooned to $3.86 billion.

District of North Vancouver Coun. Catherine Pope said Monday she was stunned to learn of the scale of the sewage plant project budget hike and thinks taxpayers on the North Shore deserve to know what happened.

“I want to know why it took three years for Metro to determine there were serious problems with this project,” she said. “We need to know as taxpayers what went wrong and why.”

Metro Vancouver released the updated costs for the sewage treatment plant project on Friday afternoon, revealing the revised project costs had grown more than $2.8 billion from the last budget of $1.058 billion in 2021.

The new cost projections come after a special task force was struck to examine problems facing the project and make recommendations to the board, which approved the new budget in a closed-door meeting Friday morning.

North Shore taxpayers are expected to be on the hook for a substantial part of that.

In a worst-case scenario, the increased costs to “average” households in North and West Vancouver has been pegged at $725 per year for the next 30 years.

District of North Vancouver Councillor Catherine Pope. submitted

Costs to local taxpayers 'unacceptable'

But Pope said it’s unfair for politicians to ask North Shore residents to pay for problems they had no knowledge of, and little say in.

“I think it’s completely unacceptable,” she said. “North Shore taxpayers can’t be saddled with these mistakes made at the Metro level.”

Pope said as an elected council member on the North Shore, she’s been as much in the dark as everyone else.

“Nothing’s been shared with councillors,” she said. “There’s a real lack of transparency in this project.”

Pope pointed to terms of reference for the task force that examined the project, which state that all meetings and materials had to be kept confidential.

Some of that secrecy is believed to stem from concerns involving several multi-million-dollar lawsuits attached to the project. Acciona, the original design-build contractor on the sewage plant, and Metro Vancouver are suing each other over the collapse of that contract.

But Pope said refusing to release any information over a long period of time “is over-reaching.”

Accountability lacking, says councillor

Pope said now the scale of the problem has been publicly revealed, “a robust investigation” is needed about “the monitoring that was or wasn’t done” when the project was initially underway.

“The accountability is very important,” she said.

“I want to know why it took three years for Metro to determine there were serious problems with this project,” she said. “Why did that take so long?”

Pope added it’s taken three more years from the shutdown for Metro to come up with a new budget.

“Can anyone really have confidence in the process without knowing what’s gone wrong here?”

Pope is calling for a whistleblower policy to be put in place on major infrastructure projects.

“It’s probably certain that engineers working on this project early on saw and knew of things that were going awry,” she said, but added people usually won’t speak up for fear of being blacklisted for future projects or fired from their jobs.

Pope contrasted the North Shore project with a new sewage plant built for Victoria’s Capital Regional District which has a similar capacity. That plant was built in three years at a budget of $775 million, she said.

“It’s very interesting to compare the two,” she said. “What did they do right?”

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Acciona Health, Safety and Environmental Manager Marc DiMarco (left) and Metro Van assistant project engineer Stuart Hilland pictured during work on the massive new sewage treatment plant in North Vancouver in March 2021. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News