The Lakeshore Road wastewater treatment plant will be delayed again, but not because of leaking, the Region reports.
Joe Tonellato, regional director of water and wastewater services, says “there are no leaks in the tanks.”
The Region is working with the contractor to address “minor issues related to the process and control” of the new plant, “which is normal when undertaking commissioning of a facility this size,” he says.
In February, Tonellato and interim Regional CAO Ron Tripp gave Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors an update on the plant, saying there was a testing process to go through, but if all went well, the plant could be online by late March or early April.
All did not go well.
It will take four weeks to get the equipment to repair the identified issues, Lord Mayor Betty Disero says she learned Thursday.
She and NOTL Regional Coun. Gary Zelepa both contacted the Region last week to enquire about issues with the testing, after being questioned about chatter on social media saying tanks were leaking and the opening would be delayed yet again.
The plant was originally scheduled to open in the summer of 2016. Tripp said at the February meeting he didn’t want to go into the reasons for the lengthy delay in completing the project, which has been under one general contractor — the process is leading down a path to legal action, he said.
In an email Tonellato sent to The Local Sunday, he says, “Being a resident of NOTL, I completely understand the importance of this plant to the community. Regional staff are engaged and fully committed to getting the plant commissioned as quickly as possible.”
“They’re doing tests,” says Disero, based on information she received from the Region Thursday, which is now on the Town’s website.
“They will keep testing and retesting until it’s ready. They found some deficiencies in instrumentation. There are just some issues, some minor stuff, to be repaired before they start commissioning the plant.”
“The 14-day functional water test at the new NOTL wastewater treatment plant was completed on March 27. During this test period, a number of process, electrical and instrumentation and control deficiencies related to the over-function and control of the facility were identified,” says the update on the Town’s website, provided by Regional staff. “These deficiencies are currently being addressed by the contractor and all must be cleared up prior to the start of the 30-day commissioning testing on sewage. We have been told by the contractor that some of the equipment needing replacement will be at least four weeks for delivery. Once all of the deficiencies are corrected, we will retest the plant on water for an additional seven days to ensure that the plant is functioning without issue. If all goes well, commissioning on sewage will begin following the successful water test.”
While the Regional update does not provide a timeline, “Do the math,” says Zalepa. “It’s not opening any time soon.”
The math says it will be more than two months before the plant is ready to begin treating sewage.
He too says he is confident the issues will be addressed, and the taxpayers will not be on the hook for any “improper workmanship.”
“Here we are years later, and I’m not happy with the delays, but we’re close to the finish line. This is a major piece of infrastructure that wouldn’t be there without this current structure of government. Unfortunately, we’re having some problems getting it completed, but according to the information we have received, it’s nothing catastrophic.”
Zalepa says the Region has recognized it has had problems with such major projects, and is working on improving a process that has led to long delays. He sits on the Region’s procurement committee, which is looking at overhauling the process of contracting for “sophisticated projects” like the sewage treatment plant. There is also a new management system in place to have professionals working alongside regional staff, who have more experience with maintaining such systems than building them.
“I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve heard,” he says. “I feel confident staff have a handle on the commissioning process, and are working diligently to ensure it will be ready to go as soon as possible.”
He said the Region is also looking at a different scoring system when choosing a contractor — one that puts weight on factors other than the lowest bid.
“Too much focus in the past has been on the lowest bidder, which may not be the whole story. We have to do our best to manage money, but we’ve reached the point where we’ve realized the lowest bid is not always the best bid. That’s how the system has been structured. Now it will include consideration of factors such as how often contractors finish projects on time.”
Zalepa says the quality of work on large projects has suffered in the past because of the procurement process, “but the question is are the taxpayers prepared to accept the cost might be more upfront, although saving in the long run. In the past there was a lot of effort to keep the budget down, but that’s catching up to us with projects like this.”