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Private company could help run sewage plants

Proposed agreement lacks details on price, council critics charge

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/5/2010 (2579 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg is poised to enter into a 30-year deal with one of the world's largest environmental firms to design, build and help maintain $661 million worth of sewage-treatment upgrades.

The creators of the city's new water, sewer and solid waste utility are asking councillors to approve a plan that would see Veolia Canada design and build new sewage-treatment facilities at the North End and South End water pollution control centres -- and then help manage the plants for decades.

The consulting partnership, which will be reviewed by the executive policy committee on Wednesday, replaces a controversial 2009 plan that could have seen a private engineering firm own part of a subsidiary of the city's new utility.

The new plan does not call for Veolia to own or control any facilities. Instead, the company's compensation will be tied to how well it performs at the task of bringing the new plants online on time and under budget -- and then helping the city maintain them efficiently, utility co-creator Bryan Gray said Friday.

"This is now a contract for service," he said. "The city at all times maintains absolute control and oversight over its facilities."

Veolia, which was chosen from a short list of three companies that included CH2M Hill and Black & Veatch, will only have five to 15 employees in Winnipeg at any given time, each offering expertise the city does not possess.

The city's desire to work closely with an environmental consulting firm came out of its experience at the West End Water Pollution Control Centre, where communication problems and design errors contributed to cost overruns on a that was project originally expected to cost $26 million, but wound up ringing in at $47 million.

Gray said the problems could be alleviated by devising one master agreement with a single company instead of tendering dozens of smaller contracts. Taxpayers stand to save up to 20 per cent out of the arrangement, he contends in a report to council.

But opposition councillors remain skeptical about the new plan, claiming the eight-page report does not explain precisely where these savings would come from.

"I want to know how much we're paying for it. It's not transparent. How do you know the cost of this for 30 years?" Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi asked. "If they do know, they're not sharing it with the rest of us in this eight-page report."

Gerbasi also accused the city of trying to slide the Veolia deal under the wire before the Selinger government introduces new legislation to govern public-private partnerships.

But Gray said time is of the essence because a provincial environmental order requires the city to finish upgrading the South End plant by the end of 2012 and complete the North End work before 2015.

The city must then come up with a way to deal with "biosolids," a euphemism for treated feces.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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