Cost for proposed raw water pump house construction project double original estimate

City administrators say Prince Albert’s raw water pump house (lower interior pictured) is almost 100 years old and needs to be replaced, but the cost has more than doubled since an assessment provided in 2018. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

A plan to replace Prince Albert’s nearly 100-year-old raw water pump house will likely be more than double the original assessment, according to a new report presented at Monday’s executive committee meeting.

A 2018 assessment from engineering consultants WSP estimated the cost at $4.54 million. However, a second engineering firm, AECOM, won the detailed design tender in 2019, and now estimates the cost to be closer to $10.09 million. The actual cost won’t be known until administration brings forward a report in February 2020.

The news didn’t sit well with Mayor Greg Dionne, who plans to meet with funding partners to discuss the project next week.

“I don’t know how we’re going to re-approach our partners,” Dionne said during the meeting. “Well, we’re not going to. Whatever they offer us next week, I’ve got no choice but to say, okay, I’m going to bring it to council because I’m not going to say, ‘now it’s over double what we asked you for.’”

“We have approached our partners to help us fund it. We told them it was $4 million,” he added. “I’m not going to tell them it is $10 million. I don’t even know what they’d say to me.”

Dionne said the 2018 tender process should have been a massive red flag for council, since the winning bid was so much lower than the roughly half-dozen others. That winning bid came in at $32,800, while the average cost for the other bids was about $95,000.

The whole process has council rethinking how it awards tenders, with some even suggesting WSP should never receive another city contract. The Daily Herald will have a response from WSP later in the week.

“We need to go after this company in my opinion,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards said. “They should not be providing us any further consultation. Hopefully that company isn’t even allowed to do business with the City of Prince Albert.”

“We shouldn’t have even considered them,” Dionne added. “When you look at the other credible companies that were there … they were so far below that. How did we not have a (red) flag?”

Council approved the tender in early 2018.

Capital Projects Manager Nycole Miller presented the report at Monday’s meeting. She called the huge discrepancy between the two estimates “very concerning,” but suggested the City could make up the difference out of the more than $4 million it will receive in Gas Tax funding. The idea was not well received.

In August, Dionne said the money would be used for the raw water intake, but he wasn’t as committed on Monday. However, he reserved any further comment until budget meetings, which continue on Nov. 21 and Nov. 25.

Other councillors, like Ted Zurakowski and Dennis Nowoselsky, urged Dionne to look to funding partners to help make up the difference.

“We just found out about this,” Zurakowski told council. “Absolutely, we go to our partners and say, ‘look what was thrown into our lap.’ If you’ve been married more than two years, you know what partnership means. It’s good times and bad, so this is where we share the burden.”

“I would suggest to (the mayor) that he honestly level with those higher levels of government, because they themselves, when they’ve done contracts, have made similar mistakes,” Nowoselsky said. “Whether it’s purchasing armed forced equipment, or getting Ring Road work done, things balloon. The key is, I think, to level with them.”

The item will be up for further debate at utility budget meetings, which start on Nov. 21. City administration has already put in an application asking for federal funding, but has not heard back from the government.

Fishy situation

There are a number of reasons for the estimated increase, but one of the most controversial involves new regulations brought in this August by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Those regulations are part of the government’s updated Fisheries Act, which extended protection for fish and fish habitats in Canadian oceans, lakes and rivers. Capital Projects Manager Nycole Miller said the new regulations will cost the city roughly $1 million, since any aquatic species caught in the raw water pump house must be returned to the North Saskatchewan River unharmed.

Miller said it’s not uncommon for small fish and minnows to get caught in the raw water pump house, but in the past they were killed, not caught and released back into the river.

The news was another blow to city council, who were already frustrated with the project.

“Have we had any complaints from our residents about fish coming out of their facets?” Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said during the meeting. “Is this a realistic concern? It seems to be odd to me.”

“Maybe they haven’t even seen a river before. Who knows with the people who write these policies,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards added. “It’s ridiculous, and I hope that we’re pointing it out to them. This is unjust.”

“Where are the statistics?” he continued. “That’s what they base all of their reports and guidelines on. Where are they? Prove to us why we need to spend that amount of money?”

The city must contact Oceans and Fishers or Environment Canada for any project that affects the river. If the City fails to adjust to the new regulations while building a new pump house, it could face fees and fines for the rest of the facility’s lifespan.

New pump house a necessity says admin

Prince Albert’s current raw water pump house has stood the test of time, but administration says it needs to be replaced sooner rather than later.

The oldest parts of the facility were built in 1923, with upgrades added in 1970, ’71, ’78, ’80, ’83, 2010, and 2013. City employees also had to make a number of structural repairs to keep the upper floor from caving in.

“Expanding the existing facility would be very risky,” Miller told council. “The original concrete is almost 100 years old and the building’s interior concrete is failing. Tying into a failing structure would not provide for a sustainable structure for the long term.”

The new facility would have to be at least 15.9 meters deep, the equivalent of about four stories. A detailed facility design from engineering firm AECOM is 66 per cent complete.

The raw water pump house draws water from the North Saskatchewan River and pumps it into the water treatment plant, where it is treated, stored and delivered to the city.